RANGERS at KINGS
(Los Angeles leads best-of-7 series 3-1)
TV: NBC, CBC, RDS
LOS ANGELES -- Everywhere you looked Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, a celebrity was raising four fingers high in the air.
New York Rangers great Mark Messier, the author of one of the most famous sporting guarantees in history, was first to hold four fingers aloft, providing a silent but not subtle reminder of the task that lay ahead for the home team in Game 4. Simply put, there was no wiggle room. Win on Wednesday then do it three more times, or fall short of the ultimate goal against the Los Angeles Kings.
Actor Michael J. Fox followed with the four-finger salute later in the first period. Then it was tennis star John McEnroe. Each time, the crowd at the Garden roared, driving the Rangers forward. The message was received, and the home team survived an onslaught in the second half of the game to hold on for a 2-1 victory, a win that extended the series at least two more days.
Game 5 is Friday at Staples Center. It represents the chance for the Rangers to claim the second of the four wins necessary to claim the Stanley Cup.
"We found a way to win," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Game 4. "We had no choice and we have no choice [Friday]."
Game 5 also represents a chance for the Kings. Win and they'll have a second Stanley Cup championship in the past three seasons, both won in front of their adoring fans. Lose and they must fly back to New York to play Game 6 on Monday.
"We'll be ready," Kings forward Justin Williams said Thursday. "We know what is at stake. We don't want to go back there. It's a long plane ride."
Here are four storylines that will likely have an impact on whether a championship is celebrated or whether plans will be made for another cross-country flight.
The Kings owned the puck for the second half of Game 4. The Rangers managed one shot in the third period and a total of six after Martin St. Louis gave them a 2-0 lead at 6:27 of the second period.
New York survived because goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played his best game of the series, if not his best of the 2014 playoffs, finishing with 40 saves while under siege for the second half of the game, including a 14-shot disadvantage in the third.
How dominant was Los Angeles? Consider the fact there were 65 faceoffs in the game. Thirty-three occurred in the Rangers' defensive zone, 16 in the Kings' defensive zone. The Rangers blocked more shots (20) than they managed to get on Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick (19).
That is an unsustainable recipe for the Rangers. If they can't alleviate the pressure on their goaltender, the odds of returning to the Big Apple to play more hockey this postseason are slim at best.
What's my line?
The Rangers had no answer for the Kings' line of center Jeff Carter between wings Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. It dominated whichever matchup the Rangers deployed. Pearson had eight shots, Carter had four and Toffoli had two. Pearson's deflection of an Alec Martinez shot late in the third period fell less than an inch short of becoming the tying goal.
Vigneault admitted Thursday that the line's speed presented a huge challenge for the Rangers in Game 4. It will be even more pressing in Game 5 because the Kings will have the last line change after stoppages in play, allowing coach Darryl Sutter to deploy the Carter line against whichever Rangers line he chooses.
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, in particular, had trouble handling the speed of some of the Kings forwards; that may be a matchup the Kings try to exploit.
"With their outside speed, they were a real force," Vigneault said. "It happened a few times when that line was on. We didn't manage the puck the way we were supposed to; they're coming one way, we're going the other.
"It's tough for any forward, Ds or forwards, to be able to handle that speed. We are very aware of it and we are going to try to do a better job [Friday]."
Prime real estate
Much of this series has been won with dominance around the crease. Los Angeles owned the goalmouth areas at both ends of the ice in the first three games. In Game 4, the Rangers did a better job of getting bodies around Quick and keeping the area around Lundqvist clearer.
Each New York goal in Game 4 came from a player who was near the net. Benoit Pouliot was within 10 feet when he tipped a John Moore shot past Quick in the first period. In the second period, St. Louis was camped out against the post when the puck found him for an easy put-back.
The Kings were snakebitten around the Rangers' net. On two occasions, a puck came to rest on or close to the goal line after getting behind Lundqvist. Each time, the Kings could not get a stick on the puck to push it home.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said his team has to be better in that area in Game 5.
"I don't like the way the goals were scored against us [Wednesday] night," Sutter said. "It was basically right after a penalty, a penalty that we didn't have to take after winning a faceoff. The second one was obviously losing a battle at the net."
The Rangers believe all the pressure is on the Kings now. They think they have planted a seed of doubt with the win in Game 4, as well as with the close calls in the first two games, overtime wins for the Kings after they overcame at least one two-goal deficit in each.
Now the Rangers need to increase that pressure by winning Game 5.
"I'm not going to think too much about where they are mentally," Lundqvist said after practice Thursday at Staples Center. "It's more about what we need to do. I know if we win tomorrow, they are definitely going to feel the pressure. We were in that position playing [the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final]. The closer you are to your final goal, obviously you tend to think more. That's just the way you work; it's hard not to.
"It is a great opportunity for us to try to take this back to New York. It would be a lot of fun to get another game in New York and see what we can do with that. But that's as far as we look right now."