We are two games into the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and there are plenty of things to talk about. As the series shifts to New York for Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS), the New York Rangers will need a big win against the Los Angeles Kings on home ice to breathe life back into their Cup chances.
Here is my take on what we saw in L.A.
KINGS HAVEN'T PLAYED BEST GAME YET
The Stanley Cup Playoffs always give us a number of crazy statistics. That's the nature of small sample sizes. But as the Los Angeles Kings sit two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup again, the craziest statistic so far might be this one: The Kings haven't had a lead yet in this series. In fact, we could take that back to the Western Conference Final and point out the Kings haven't led in three consecutive games, and yet somehow, some way, they've won all of them.
The situation is so bizarre that after Game 2, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said to me, "Barry, you know we're a really good team when we have the lead."
So far they haven't needed one, and what that tells you more than anything else is that despite winning each of the first two games of this series in overtime, the Kings have yet to play up to their potential in the Stanley Cup Final. The New York Rangers have probably been the better team this entire series and I think they were certainly the better team in Game 2 on Saturday night. For the Rangers to be down 2-0 in this series and know their opponent hasn't played its best game yet is a scary thing.
Each of these losses was devastating for the Rangers, but they can still lean on the fact several of their big names -- Rick Nash, Chris Kreider -- played better in Game 2. Alain Vigneault will have to sell to his locker room that they can build on how well they played and know they could easily be up 2-0 instead of down 2-0. His team will need that because a lot of guys are probably doubting themselves in that room right now. If New York can win Game 3 Monday night, though, the series is certainly not over.
New York will have to buck the odds to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final; it doesn't happen often, but both the Rangers and Kings have rallied from deficits this postseason, so they know what's possible. Then again, if you have a two-goal lead two games in a row and lose both, maybe you don't deserve to win.
BUT THE KINGS HAVEN'T JUST BEEN LUCKY
The Kings have won three straight games in overtime, and it doesn't take a genius to realize any of those games could have gone the other way. As they always say, though, the harder I work, the luckier I get. These Kings are a good example of that because they do all of the little things right -- even if they haven't been doing them from the start this postseason.
They win the battles along the boards, they get the traffic in front of the net, and even if they're ugly they get the goals they need. The Kings have been in seven elimination games this postseason and won them all, they've come back from two-goal deficits in each of the last three games and remember, this team had most of the same players in the locker room two years ago, and against the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final they did the same thing they've done this time, winning the first two games in overtime.
The Kings win too many of these games for it to be a coincidence. When you do all of the little things on the margins of the game well, it adds up. It seems clear to me the Kings win too many of these tight games, and end up forcing too many tight games when they're starting from behind. At this point it seems clear it can't all be luck.
THIS SERIES SHOWS HOW WIDE OPEN THE GAME IS NOW
The Kings' knack for comebacks in the playoffs is impressive, but the thing it shows me is how much the game has changed in the last decade. Ten years ago, a two-goal lead was insurmountable. When the Devils of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer got a two-goal lead, the game was over. When the Dallas Stars had a two-goal lead, the game was over. When the Detroit Red Wings or Colorado Avalanche had a two-goal lead back in the early 2000s, the game was over.
That just shows how the game has progressed. After the work stoppage in 2004 there were several rules changes that were intended to open up the game and increase scoring, and each year it becomes clearer as to just how effective those rules are.
Now we talk about two-goal leads disappearing in the third period. The game is totally different. The sudden-strike offense is a part of the game now, and it makes the game crazy, exciting and entertaining. These playoffs have proven how fun it is to watch hockey right now. You can't turn off a game because a two-goal lead could be gone in five minutes.
MCDONAGH'S COMING OUT PARTY
Several players have been very impressive so far in the postseason and in this series. In fact, you could argue that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, despite the 2-0 series deficit, has been the most impressive player in the Cup Final so far. For me though, what's sticking out is how this is a coming out party for two of the brightest young defenseman in our game: Drew Doughty and Ryan McDonagh.
Doughty has already been in the spotlight. We already knew how talented he was and his name is already on the Stanley Cup, but he has just been an absolute force for this entire postseason in a way he hasn't been before.
And then there is McDonagh. He probably isn't as well-known as Doughty, but I think he's made it clear this postseason that he could be a regular Norris Trophy candidate over the next few years. He's the best defenseman on a team in the Stanley Cup Final, he always faces the other team's top line, he runs the power play and he looks like the next big-time blueliner we have in the NHL. I think this season McDonagh has reached the top echelon of defensemen in the League, and now that he's in a Cup Final, he has the stage to show it.