Stanley Cup Final: Despite loss, plenty of reason for Rangers optimism

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

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If you just listened to the players and coaches after Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, it might be kind of difficult to figure out which team won and which lost. There was this:

"A lot of things going awry during the game. We certainly have to clean that up. We certainly weren't ready for the speed of their wingers, I don't think."

And this:

"We have to definitely look over some of the things we did. We didn't do a lot of things right. Gave up opportunities. ... Yeah, we got a lot to clean up."

Those quotes came from Justin Williams and Drew Doughty, two of the Kings' three goal-scorers in their 3-2 win to open up the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday. Conversely, the Rangers' tune was pretty similar but perhaps even a bit more upbeat.

Take Marc Staal for example.

"There are some things we can do differently, obviously. But there are things we can work with from this game. ... It's encouraging we know we can play a better full game than we did tonight and we were still one shot away from winning the game."

There's the word from Staal, encouraging. The question is if it was just lip service, putting a positive spin on a frustrating situation, or if that was indeed his takeaway from Game 1 because really, it could be either.

Don't let the final shot totals that favored LA 43-27 fool you. The Rangers played a pretty strong game, especially for being on the road. They lost their way in the third period, but the first 40 minutes? The Rangers were good and showed they can compete with the Western Conference champs.

Yet they still lost. There's always a double-edged sword in a situation like that that; do you leave encouraged you came so close or discouraged that you played a good game and still only came so close?

A common feeling expressed Wednesday night by many who watched suggested the Rangers let one get away. They built up a quick 2-0 lead against a Kings team that coach Darryl Sutter admitted didn't have full tanks in terms of energy but let it slip away. It was shaping up as a golden chance to get that win on the road that will be necessary if they want to hoist the Stanley Cup.

More than anything, that's just frustrating. The troublesome aspect is how the Rangers were dominated by the Kings in the third period. Really, the word dominate is the perfect description because it was about as one-sided as you'll ever see a period in the Stanley Cup Final.

Yuck. Most of that damage was done in the opening half of the period. The Rangers did get a little traction back but it was not a good period. As the game went on, the Kings got better. You could understand why there could be a discouraging feeling in the Rangers room.

That extends even further if you look at it from the prism of the Kings complaining about the way they played in the game, that they think there is a much higher level they can play at but yet their B game was still good enough for a win.

It was hardly all doom and gloom because the Rangers did do a lot of things right, things to make what Staal said seem like more than lip service.

There was no getting around the fact that the Rangers had something working with their speed. The Kings were taken aback by how fast the Rangers were on the wings and that's even with knowing the Rangers rely on their speed. LA can be quick too but still had issues. If you can find a chink in the armor in the first game of the series, that gives your team plenty of time to find a way to best exploit it.

Again, don't let the final shot totals fool you. the game wasn't THAT lopsided. The Rangers were generating chances, particularly in the first 40 minutes, but for whatever reason they just couldn't shoot straight. The Rangers racked up 21 shots attempts that weren't on target and all but three players had at least one miss. Whatever the cause, whether it was nerves, pressure from the Kings or trying to get too cute on Jonathan Quick, that likely won't be a recurring theme.

Given that, a much better indication of how this game was indeed pretty balanced -- and given the third period, how good the Rangers looked in the first two -- was that the Kings had 64 total shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots and attempts blocked) to the Rangers' 63. They played on equal footing to the NHL's top possession team in their barn. For a team that was supposed to be overwhelmed by LA that tells a different story.

Then there was the penalty kill. The Rangers committed four penalties in the game but didn't pay the price; in fact, they actually benefitted. Not only did the Rangers get a short-handed goal from Carl Hagelin -- who again, took advantage of his greatest asset, speed -- but they were a bigger threat on all four power plays combined than the Kings. They were keeping a power-play unit that was clicking at better than 25 percent in the playoffs completely off balance.

Of course they had stellar play in the back too from Henrik Lundqvist. Not like they had much to worry about there but it had to be comforting to see him playing to the level we expect, the level that is capable of stealing the Rangers a game or two. It's hard to put the goals on him, especially the winner from Williams. The things that happened were mostly mistakes and mistakes can be cleaned up.

It's never fun to be the team in the position of trying to find the silver linings but in the Rangers' case, they don't necessarily need a microscope to pick them out. There were a couple of causes for concern but more reasons for the Rangers to feel OK after a Game 1 loss.

Surely they believed before the series they could play with LA but now they should know they can.

 
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