A New York Rangers team that captured the Big Apple's imagination lost the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 on Friday. Alec Martinez's goal in double overtime gave the win to the Kings, who relied on strong two-way play and a wealth of playoff experience to hoist the Cup for the second time in three seasons.
On paper, the 4-1 series loss was humbling for the Rangers, who were able to compete at opportune times and probably deserved a better fate than to go out in five games. Here are five reasons the Rangers were unable to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York for the first time in 20 years:
1. Scoring from key players
SOG: 83 | +/-: -1
Rick Nash and Brad Richards ranked first and second in goals for the Rangers during the regular season, but the veterans did not score in the Cup Final. What's more, New York's top five goal-scorers during the regular season (Nash, Richards, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin) combined for three goals in the series, none in the final three games.
Nash finished the postseason with three goals in 25 games, and Richards was eventually relegated to the fourth line against Los Angeles.
2. Holding leads
New York's inability to hold a lead was a recurring issue. The Rangers held a two-goal lead in Game 1 and in Game 2 in Los Angeles only to see the Kings tie them before winning each in overtime. The Rangers weathered a Kings onslaught in Game 4 to hold on for a 2-1 win, but that was the exception rather than the rule. New York blew another lead in Game 5 when former Rangers forward Marian Gaborik scored his second third-period game-tying goal of the Cup Final.
It was a major departure for the Rangers, who entered the Final with a 10-0 record in the playoffs when leading to start the third period.
3. Play in the third and overtime
At times, New York made some big plays against Los Angeles. Unfortunately, those chances mostly came in the first two periods, and the Kings outscored the Rangers 6-0 in the third period and overtime.
New York was outshot 61-25 in the third period during the Cup Final. Ignore Game 3, which ironically was New York's best overall effort and its only regulation loss in this series, and that disparity is 59-14.
The Rangers played well in extra time despite going 0-3 in overtime games. Coach Alain Vigneault expressed as much after Martinez's series-clinching goal.
"I thought in the overtime, that's when we played our better hockey of the night," he said. "Had some real good looks. Both goaltenders were outstanding."
Three overtime losses were simply too much for the Rangers to overcome in the Cup Final.
4. Costly errors
The Kings' ability to make the most of the Rangers' mistakes is what ultimately turned the series. In fact, a number of plays that decided the outcome started with a New York turnover at the worst possible time.
In the closing seconds of the first period of Game 3, Nash failed to get the puck deep into the L.A. zone. New York's defensive collapse on the ensuing rush ended with Jeff Carter scoring the game-winner with 0.8 seconds remaining in the period.
In the third period of Game 2 two nights earlier, Ryan McDonagh's giveaway in front of his own net resulted in Gaborik tying the game 7:36 into the third. Finally, with New York leading 2-1 in the third period of Game 5, Derek Stepan's clearing attempt during a penalty kill was intercepted by Carter. Moments later, Gaborik tied the game and set the stage for Martinez's winner.
5. Playing 5-on-5
The Rangers struggled on special teams, most notably with a power play that scored at a 9.1 percent rate. But playing 5-on-5 was especially challenging against the Kings, who outscored New York 12-6 in the series when playing five aside.
Los Angeles outshot New York 165-105 in the series playing 5-on-5. Ignore the Rangers' strong effort in Game 3 and the difference is 156-86.
The Rangers struggled through lengthy stretches of 5-on-5 play. That was perhaps best captured late in the first overtime period of Game 5. With defensemen John Moore and Kevin Klein forced to play a shift lasting 2:03, the Kings fired eight straight shots at goaltender Henrik Lundqvist; three of the shots made it through, four missed and one was blocked by Klein.
New York somehow weathered the storm, but it was indicative of what Los Angeles could do when it imposed its will.