We're one game into the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings certainly didn't disappoint. Game 1 was an excellent matchup in which the Rangers dominated early before the Kings took over. Despite the disappointing 3-2 overtime loss, the Rangers have plenty of positives to take away from Game 1 and can still be a force in this series.
You couldn't have scripted a better start for the Rangers. The Kings were on home ice and with the Rangers' five-day layoff I was wondering how they would be coming out of the blocks. They came out playing a turbo pace with the speed game they showed against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. New York was winning races, had a lot of support and was first on pucks; its forecheck was suffocating and forced a lot of turnovers. The Rangers generated a lot of scoring chances early on, each goal a direct result of that speed and puck support.
I loved the first half of their game, but the goal the Kings got late in the first period was a game-changer. L.A. went into the intermission and started feeling good, and the rest is history. L.A. really controlled the second half of the game, outshooting New York 20-4 in the third. It really was a tale of two games.
In the end, the Kings did a much better job in the neutral zone. They made their adjustments in the neutral zone and that was the end of the Rangers' speed game.
In addition to that, I liked the adjustments made by Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who went to the blender after the bad start. The only line he kept intact after going down 2-0 was his big boys, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik. Other than that, he blew up his forward lines.
I like it for two reasons. First, it got his guys going. Second, it kept the Rangers off balance. In New York's scouting of Los Angeles, it saw the Kings had their four lines set. All of a sudden, L.A. is throwing out all these new matchups, forcing Rangers coach Alain Vigneault to make some big decisions.
The way the Rangers started is the way they need to play the entire game. They need the Kings to get into that track meet.
The big thing for the Rangers was how Carl Hagelin and Dominic Moore were their best players up front. Hagelin scored New York's second goal and played to his strengths, using his speed to create chances offensively and defensively. Moore was flying all game, and keep in mind that he was out defending against Kopitar much of the game, including the opening faceoff. That speaks to the level of player Moore is. In the opening faceoff of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, he goes head-to-head against the leading scorer in the playoffs, the player Wayne Gretzky called the third-best player in the world. That says everything you need to know.
Our playoffs are great every year, but I don't know if I've seen anything like 2014. Those guys were flying in Game 1. That pace was so high at Staples Center. It didn't break the sound barrier in the second period, but it was still fast. I expect to see more of that speed in this series, and if you're the Rangers you absolutely have to play that way; force L.A. to play faster than they want to. The Rangers are the faster team and we need to see that speed if they hope to counter the Kings' size.
The Rangers are far from out of this series. There are tons of positives for New York to take out of Game 1. There are also adjustments to make for each team.
Finally, I have to give Kyle Clifford some love for a big game, but the main story is Justin Williams, who did it again. All Williams does is score big goals in huge games. Unreal. If I'm a scout, I'm trying to find a versatile five-tool, all-situations player like Justin Williams. I'm scouring the world for a player like him. A lot of people don't get what he brings until the playoffs. If I'm a scout, I'm trying to find a carbon copy of him. He brings so much to the table; he's calm and always delivers.
You know he'll be a major factor if this series goes seven games, but the Rangers will have to keep their foot on the pedal if they want to get that far.