We may be able to crown a Stanley Cup winner Saturday night. Well, not officially. But for all intents and purposes, Saturday night could be the Rangers last chance to make these Finals a series. Sure, the Kings would only be up 2-0 in a best of seven, but does anyone believe that the Rangers are going to beat the Kings four out of five times these next two weeks? Even the rosiest of “Ranger blue-wearing glasses” fans knows how daunting the task would be.
It’s not Ranger-hate that fuels me. It’s history. It’s math. In the 298 previous times a team fell behind 0-2 in a series, they’ve only come back to win 41 of those. That’s 13.8%. If you were a betting man, would you feel comfortable with those odds? If game one was a must-win, then game two is do-or-die time for the Rangers.
The more the Rangers think about it, the more they have to be sick over Wednesday night. The Kings were coming off an emotional high, on short-rest, and the Rangers found themselves up by a pair in the first period with the best goalie on the planet securing the lead. What Ranger player or fan wouldn’t have signed up for that? And then it all went to hell.
It only took until a few minutes into the second period for the Kings to erase the lead, and with that, the good feelings the Rangers and its fans had. It felt as if the Kings were bored or disinterested in the first and needed to get smacked in the mouth before they responded. Like a boxer who takes a few good shots in the early rounds, the Kings stumbled, but once they found their legs, started throwing their own haymakers at the Rangers.
By the time the third period got underway, the game looked just like many experts predicted it would: the Kings carrying the play and controlling the puck and the Rangers relying on Lundqvist to save them and get one or two chances to steal a win. Despite being outshot 20-3 in the period, remarkably, the Rangers did manage two quality chances including a Martin St. Louis two-on-one shot and then Carl Hagelin generating another short-handed breakaway opportunity in the period’s final minute. Against Marc-Andre Fleury or Dustin Tokarski those two chances may have been all the Rangers needed to steal game one. But with Jonathan Quick in net, the Rangers’ hopes were dashed.
The Rangers will come hard Saturday night, that much I can safely predict. The problem though? So will the Kings who took nearly 20 minutes of game action before flipping the switch and blitzing the Rangers. Coach Alain Vigneault said on Thursday the Rangers needed to bring their “A” game. They did bring it…for the first 40 minutes at least. And it still wasn’t good enough to steal a game against the Kings and their “B” game.
The Rangers tried to get physical, but looked like the hits they threw took more of a toll on themselves than the Kings. The Rangers generally generate good chances off the counter. But you need to force turnovers to do that, and these Kings are one of the best puck-possession teams in the league. It seemed that the Rangers threw everything they could at them early on and just ran out of gas late. If that’s a harbinger of things to come, this will be a short series.
Which makes Saturday night’s game two that much more important. A dominating performance by the Kings and the Rangers will crawl home back to Madison Square Garden, no doubt confidence shaken. History is not the Rangers friend.
To the Rangers credit, they have played some of their best hockey when things looked bleak, so it’s impossible to write them off completely regardless of the game two’s outcome. But these aren’t the fragile Penguins or defense-starved Flyers they’re facing. This is arguable the best team in the league the past three seasons looking to earn its second Cup title in three years. The group of grizzled vets and Cup champions won’t take its collective foot off the Rangers’ throat once they smell blood.
Expect the Rangers to throw the kitchen sink at the Kings Saturday night. But expect the Kings to take the Rangers best shot before delivering a knockout of their own.
The Ranger faithful are expecting a festive atmosphere next week for games three and four. But if their beloved blueshirts can’t take care of business Saturday night, it will be more solemn than festive at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” Do-or-die time for the Rangers. Can they survive?