KINGS at RANGERS
(Los Angeles leads best-of-7 series 3-0)
TV: NBCSN, CBC, RDS
NEW YORK -- The mission is simple for the New York Rangers.
They must win Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Do so and they can start to entertain thoughts about Game 5 in Los Angeles two nights later. Fail and they can start packing their lockers for a summer filled with what-ifs and what-could-have-beens.
The Los Angeles Kings, on the other hand, have things a bit easier. They have a cushion with which to play after a 3-0 victory in Game 3 on Monday gave them a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Of the nine Stanley Cup Final series to start 3-0 since 1982, eight have finished in a sweep. The Kings were involved in the one series that wasn't over in four, winning the first three games against the New Jersey Devils in 2012 and then finishing it in Game 6 after two wins by the Devils.
But the Kings don't want to take their time with this. In the first round, the San Jose Sharks had the Kings in a 3-0 hole and finishing off the series seemed a mere formality. Only problem was the Kings won the next four to wiggle off the elimination hook. In the Western Conference Final, the Kings had a 3-1 series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks but required a Game 7 to finish the series.
"I think both teams know it's possible to turn this around," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said Tuesday. "They've done it and we know we can do it. It's not like we've been outplayed here; that's not been the case."
If the Rangers are going to start a comeback by stretching this series past its minimum, these four storylines will be part of the narrative.
Actions, not words
The Rangers said all the right things Tuesday during an optional practice 13 hours removed from the shutout loss in Game 3.
"You're disappointed and upset you're in this position," Lundqvist said. "But at the same time, you have to accept it and move on and get ready for the next game. But [Tuesday], yeah, it's not a happy room, obviously.
"We worked really hard and long to get here. Again, we're playing a really good team. They take advantage of mistakes. They play extremely well defensively, I think. We still believe that we can do it. We have to start by just focusing on the first period [Wednesday]."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was even blunter in his assessment.
"We're down 3-0," he said. "We're all lacking sleep. This is tough. I didn't expect my players today to be cheery and upbeat. We're in the Stanley Cup Final and we're down 3-0. You don't get a lot of these opportunities. Excuse us if today we're not real cheery. But tomorrow I can tell you we're going to show up."
The Rangers will have to do more than show up Wednesday and talk the talk. They are going to have to walk the walk by playing their best game of the series. They are going to have to be faster than they have been to this point, more physical, more aggressive. Simply, they are going to have to be much, much better to put down a Kings team which has rallied past every obstacle placed in its way this postseason.
"What needs to happen is the actions on the ice," Vigneault said. "I like the way we've played. I mean, we've played some good hockey but we haven't found a way to win. That's what we've got to do [Wednesday]."
Lundqvist needs to be the man
There is no denying all the Rangers need to be better in Game 4. Their top scorers need to score, which is something that has not happened with regularity in this series. Their defensemen need to be better, especially the top pairing.
But if the Rangers win Wednesday, it will be because Lundqvist is the best player on the ice. He is the best player on the team and he must lead them to victory. They will not win in spite of him; they only can win because of him at this point.
His opposing goaltender, Jonathan Quick was the best player in Game 3, turning in a 32-save shutout. He is the reason the Kings won that game despite managing 15 shots. Now it needs to be Lundqvist who is accomplishing the same feat for the Rangers.
He has not done it so far in the Final. He has helped his team squander four two-goal leads in the first two games and has allowed 11 goals in the first three games. Those are un-Lundqvist-like showings and they need to stop Wednesday.
"I know I have to play really well for us to win," Lundqvist said. "But I think when you go out [in Game 4], you don't think about the end result, 'I need to give up one or less.' I need to think about the process. That's stopping the next shot. What do you need to do to stay focused the right way? That's the kind of mindset I have going into the games."
Avoid the distractions
The Kings were in this very situation two years ago. They won two overtime games against the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final and then took Game 3 in a shutout. However, they lost Game 4 on home ice and also Game 5 before winning the Cup in Game 6 in Los Angeles. It was days of added stress and wear and tear which the Kings would have liked to avoid.
The Kings, to a man, say they learned their lessons from that series and won't repeat the same mistakes this time. They say they will concentrate on the task at hand, which is winning the all-important fourth game. The other stuff -- the tickets, the celebrations, the families -- can wait until the primary goal of raising the Stanley Cup is accomplished.
"I think potentially, maybe not everyone but there were some issues that maybe got us sidetracked a little bit," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "We've got the rest of our lives to see our friends and family, make sure they have tickets and all that. We have, you know, usually one chance, and this is our second chance to do it, to win a Stanley Cup, to be remembered forever. That had a little bit to do with it.
"Obviously New Jersey not wanting to go away quietly, they certainly didn't. Made us earn it. We expect the Rangers are going to do the exact same."
No hope allowed
The Sharks gave the Kings life and the Kings clutched at it desperately. Twenty-one games later the Kings not only are alive and kicking, but they are one win away from claiming their second Cup in three years and putting themselves on the periphery of talks about hockey dynasties.
But the Kings know things can change in a hurry.
Momentum swings have happened throughout this postseason for Los Angeles, which has suffered through two losing streaks of three games and won as many as six in a row. The Kings currently are riding a four-game winning streak.
The Kings can't let the Rangers find momentum in Game 4. They can't let them breathe. They can't let them hope. They can't let them see the faintest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. To do so, they know, would open the door for a comeback by New York.
"It wasn't easy for us to come back from 3-0 in the first series against San Jose," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We know how it can happen. All it takes is one game, one momentum shift; the [other] team can run with it, the other team can be down in the dumps.
"That's why this next game is so important for us. We can't let them back into the series. We have to take it to them. They're going to have their best effort without a doubt, and we need to have ours as well."