For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.
Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
Sitting with his pen and notepad in hand as he watched Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final from his couch Wednesday, Craig Ramsay, longtime hockey player and coach, could not figure out how or why the New York Rangers played so differently in the third period than they did in the first two.
"It absolutely boggled my mind," Ramsay told NHL.com.
Here were the Rangers, on the road as the underdogs against the Los Angeles Kings, with a glorious chance to take a 1-0 lead in the series, blowing a two-goal lead and compounding the problem by sitting back and letting the opponent dictate the pace and the play.
The Kings dominated the third period. They outshot the Rangers 20-3, including 14-0 through the first 11:43. Henrik Lundqvist was the only reason the score remained 2-2 through regulation.
Justin Williams won it in overtime to give the Kings a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
"They either tired out or they got panicky and were like, 'Hey, let's not lose,'" Ramsay said. "That's the way they played -- they played not to lose. If you do that, you will lose. The old prevent defense only does one thing -- prevents you from winning. You just can't do that."
Ramsay didn't blame Rangers coach Alain Vigneault for the way the team played in the third period because he doesn't think Vigneault is the type of coach who would tell his team to sit back.
Ramsay wasn't that way in 2004, when he was an assistant on John Tortorella's staff with the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, he specifically remembers the Lightning playing the same type of safe hockey when they had a chance to lock up their spot in the Stanley Cup Final in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"We were up in the third period, and our philosophy was 'safe is death,' but we sat back, and as coaches we couldn't stop them," Ramsay said. "We didn't win that game. They came back, tied it and beat us in overtime. We won the next game, but part of the next game is in the third period when we were ahead by a goal our team went for it, did not sit back.
"When you're on the road in the Stanley Cup Final for Game 1, in L.A., and they're the favorite, you should be pumped going into that third period. You should be wired up, especially with the way they played in the first two periods."
Ramsay said he wrote a note during the second period that neutral-zone play was not a factor in the game.
"It became an issue in the third because the Rangers sat back and tried to play a neutral-zone game," he said. "It became a neutral-zone game for the Rangers, not the Kings, because they stopped forechecking."
But Ramsay doesn't think the lost opportunity in Game 1 makes the Rangers a lost cause. Far from it, in fact.
"I think they put a scare into L.A.," he said. "L.A. has to be afraid of what they saw in those first two periods. That's what they have to be thinking. For two periods they looked like the team to beat, so play three periods and they will be the team to beat."
Ramsay, though, knows it will be difficult for the Rangers to win the series if they don't get more out of Rick Nash.
Vigneault praised Nash on Thursday for his defensive effort, as well as for his ability to generate some good looks on the offensive end despite having three goals in 21 playoff games, one of which was the seventh goal in a 7-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens.
"Rick has been playing real good hockey," Vigneault said.
Sure, but he's not even on a 12-goal regular-season pace right now. Nash usually averages approximately one goal per seven periods in the regular season. He has scored at least 40 twice and hit the 30-goal mark five other times. Nash scored 26 goals in 65 games this season. He's paid to score.
"He has become comfortable as a checker," Ramsay said of Nash. "Well guess what: They need everybody to score, and he has the tools to do that. He has to step up. He's good enough to do it."
Ramsay said Nash should be taking pucks to the net to create offense. He didn't see him do that in Game 1. He hasn't seen him do that a lot in these playoffs.
"I made a note that read, 'Don't pigeon-hole yourself and don't allow yourself to be pigeon-holed,'" Ramsay said. "You have to keep pushing yourself to do more."
That note can be for Nash alone, but also for the Rangers at large after Game 1.
They'll get another crack Saturday in Game 2 (7 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"If you're going to win the Stanley Cup, you have to play the third period," Ramsay said.