NEW YORK -- The Los Angeles Kings played a near-perfect road period to start Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
They bottled up the New York Rangers, taking away their speed, which many believed was the biggest advantage held by New York. They limited the Rangers to intermittent shots, refusing to let them get a foothold in the attacking zone and generate a sustained attack. They took the crowd, filled with fans that have waited 20 years to celebrate the return of the Stanley Cup Final to the Garden, out of the game almost from the start.
With all that accomplished, the Kings would have been happy to go into the first intermission after a scoreless opening period. Instead, Jeff Carter gave them the lead, scoring at the last possible second.
That game-opening goal set the tone for what turned out to be a 3-0 victory by the Kings in Game 3 of the Final. The Kings are one win away from sweeping this best-of-7 series and winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons; they'll try to eliminate the Rangers in Game 4 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"I think Carter's goal was the big one," said Los Angeles center Mike Richards, who scored the game's third goal. "In [this] series, we haven't played well off the start. I thought we played a pretty good first period. To get that at the end of the period made us feel good going to the dressing room."
The Kings trailed 2-0 in the first period of Games 1 and 2, only to rally and win in overtime. But to do so, they have had to chase the game, opening things up and allowing the Rangers more chances than the Kings are normally comfortable surrendering.
On Monday, the Kings got to play with the lead and they were a far different team. They attacked, but with a plan. They defended responsibly. Yes, they allowed 32 shots, but a good portion of those came on the six power plays the Rangers earned. The Kings showed their dominance late in the game when the Rangers pulled their goalie with 4:21 remaining. Despite playing with a 6-on-5 skating disadvantage, the Kings did not allow the desperate Rangers to fire a shot on net.
All of that dominance, though, was made possible, in large part, by the momentum of Carter's goal.
The Kings had just finished killing a high-sticking penalty to Willie Mitchell when Slava Voynov made a crisp outlet pass to Justin Williams. He carried across the attacking blue line before making a sweet pass to Carter, who was cutting into the zone. Carter fired and his shot ticked off the skate of sprawling defenseman Dan Girardi and handcuffed New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist. There was 0.7 seconds left on the clock when the red light flashed.
It is only the fifth goal in the history of the Stanley Cup Final to be scored in the last second of a period.
"I was reacting low and it went high and it's just one of those plays where with a little luck there that puck ends up in the netting or in the glass, but unfortunately with half a second left it ended up in our net," Lundqvist said. "It was a tough play."
It rocked the Rangers and they never recovered. Now they sit one loss away from elimination and face the daunting task of winning four straight games without a margin of error.
"We felt we played a real good period, the pace was good, there wasn't a lot of room, both teams were battling real hard for ice," New York coach Alain Vigneault said of the first period. "That was their only chance in the first period. We out-chanced them 4-1. We had some real good looks. Stuff like that happens.
"Effectively we came out hard in the second and we kept trying."
The Rangers did try for the rest of the game, but they did not succeed, thanks to the breathing room provided by the Carter goal.