KINGS at RANGERS
(Los Angeles leads best-of-7 series 2-0)
TV: NBCSN, CBC, RDS
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings have yet to hold a lead during game action of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, yet they hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series against the New York Rangers.
How have the Kings pulled off such an impressive feat? They have rallied from four two-goal deficits in the first two games (three in Game 2 alone) to take sudden-death decisions in each game. It is part testament to the resiliency of the Kings, who have won six games in which they trailed after the first period this postseason and part indictment of the Rangers, who could not build off fast first-period starts in each of the first two games.
Now, the series switches to New York City for Game 3 on Monday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). New York faces a virtual must-win situation; falling behind 3-0 in a series, especially as the lower-seeded team, has been a virtual death sentence in the Stanley Cup Final. In fact, three teams have rallied from an 2-0 deficit in the Final, with the Boston Bruins being the most recent in a seven-game series against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. That Canucks team was coached by Alain Vigneault, the current coach of the Rangers.
The Rangers have won two of the past seven series in which they have fallen into a 2-0 hole, but were 0-for-17 before the first rally in 1996 against the Montreal Canadiens. Most recently, the Rangers rallied from a 2-0 hole against the Washington Capitals in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Kings, meanwhile, have won seven straight series in which they have taken a 2-0 series lead. Their only loss with such an advantage came against the Minnesota North Stars in 1968.
Here are four storylines which could have a huge impact on Game 3:
Which Lundqvist will show up?
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was a difference-maker in the first three rounds, a legitimate candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy after three rounds of the playoffs. But he has not been a difference-maker in this series.
Four times his team has spotted him a two-goal lead in the first two games. Four times, Lundqvist has not been able to hold onto those leads.
His goals-against average was 2.04 after three rounds and 20 games. For the first two games of the Final, it is 3.11. His save percentage through the first three rounds was a stellar .928. In this round, it is .908. Part of the problem is Lundqvist is seeing more shots from the Kings than he did from any of his other opponents this postseason. Through the first 20 games, he faced an average of 27.2 shots. In this round, he is facing 43.5, a number that can’t just be explained away by the presence of three overtime periods.
Plus, Lundqvist was seething after Game 2, believing the referee made a bad call in allowing the third goal by the Kings to stand. He believed it was goalie interference and that the non-call, which allowed the Kings to cut the lead to 4-3, changed the entire complex of the game.
But Vigneault believes his goalie and his team have processed the disappointment and frustration associated with the loss Saturday and will be ready for the challenges presented Monday night.
"Our guys are going to be real focused tomorrow," the coach said Sunday. "We need to hold serve. We're back in our building. We've played some good hockey. We might feel that we deserve a better outcome than what we have right now, which is trailing by two games.
"But it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, we got to take care of business tomorrow and that's what we're going to do."
What's My Line
With home-ice advantage, Vigneault received the luxury of having the last personnel change during any stoppage in play.
How will he use it?
Does he want to get his top line away from the top line of the Kings, which features checking maestro Anze Kopitar at center? Can he get his fourth line, with power forward Brian Boyle, into some positive matchup situations to continue the momentum found by that line during Game 2?
What about his defensemen? Will he hard match Ryan McDonagh against the top line, which also features Dustin Brown, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 and Marian Gaborik, who leads the playoffs in scoring?
Being the away team hasn’t fazed the Kings at all this postseason; they are the only team in the history of the NHL to win three Game 7s, all on the road.
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter tends to roll his four lines as much as possible. He will spot his third defensive pair a bit more judiciously away from home and that is perhaps the only difference the Kings show as a road team.
"We all roll lines, but I think you have to try to make sure who is on the ice in certain situations. You have centermen, you have defenseman. It's a challenge," Sutter said. "You're not going to play a series without playing games on the road."
On top of the ability to have the last change, the Rangers are excited to play in front of their fans at Madison Square Garden. They believe it will be a huge advantage.
"Well, you know, it's home ice. Two games so far, it's proved to be a big piece of that," said New York defenseman John Moore. "We know our fans are going to be rocking. There's obviously advantages strategically that come with home ice."
The Kings have played three straight overtime games. They led in none of them until scoring in each during the sudden-death portion of the game. That is a lot of chasing, which can be exhausting physically and mentally.
Saturday night, Sutter said he was concerned about the fatigue factor when it comes to his team. As an example, top defenseman Drew Doughty played more than 41 minutes in Game 2. Now, the Kings have flown across the country and will play Monday night, less than 48 hours after playing at Staples Center.
Will they have the legs to match the intensity of the Rangers, who will be fueled by the energy of the crowd at MSG?
"[It's] a lot of hockey," Sutter said. "There's always lots of talk about depth and those things. Somebody is on a little bit of a roll or not. They'll talk about having depth, not having depth.
"Depth only matters when you win. You need depth when you get to overtime games and games after overtime games. We've managed to do that. We've moved guys around. Obviously guys get banged up and things like that. But that is your biggest issue always in a series. It's not just playing guys; it's getting the quality, getting good minutes out of them."
Has history been learned?
This is not the first time the Kings have enjoyed prosperity in these playoffs.
In the second round, they won the first two games against the Anaheim Ducks, only to lose the next three and be forced to win two straight elimination games.
Against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings dropped Game 1, but won the next three games to put the defending champs on the brink of elimination. But it took overtime of the third attempt to finally win and send Chicago out of the playoffs.
So, there is a body of evidence which suggests the Kings are far from in the cat's bird seat that so many imagine them to be in at the moment. The question, ultimately, is have they learned from the sins of the past? Will they be ready to put the Rangers into survival mode?
"Obviously, momentum is a huge part of playoff hockey," King said. "Once a team has it, it's important to try to switch the tide in your favor as quick as possible."