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Rangers' missed opportunity in Game 2 could prove fatal in series

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers face a daunting task now down 2-0 to the Kings. (USATSI)
Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers face a daunting task now down 2-0 to the Kings. (USATSI)

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The Los Angeles Kings have held leads in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final for a grand total of zero minutes, zero seconds, yet they lead the series 2-0 over the New York Rangers. At various points of Game 2 Saturday night, the Kings trailed 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2. They came away with a 5-4 win in double overtime.

How is this possible? Better yet, how could the Rangers let this happen? They had held the lead for a good portion of regulation, starting with Ryan McDonagh scoring the game's first goal at 10:48 of the first period. It was a lead on which they built, but one they failed to hold onto.

Credit where credit is due, the Kings have now overcome five multigoal deficits this postseason to win games. Going back to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Kings are on a three-game winning streak without ever holding a lead in the games they won. This is something they've made a habit of. But you would think a team with the postseason's best goaltender would be able to hold onto multigoal leads. That hasn't been the case for New York.

The Rangers can say they were a shot away from winning both games, and Lord Stanley knows they came close a few times, but to come out of Los Angeles with nothing to show for it could signify a forthcoming early end to the series.

The doubt is there now. How could the Rangers have any amount of confidence going forward knowing that in each of their last two games -- with everything to play for -- they couldn't close out the Kings?

Though both teams will be tired coming out of back-to-back overtime games and a long flight to New York before Monday night's Game 3, the Kings are the ones with all the chips. They have the cushion. The Rangers have to have desperation.

But desperation might not even be enough as history is not on New York's side even with the series headed home.

According to the NHL, 48 teams have taken a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final since it went to a seven-game format in 1939. Nearly ninety percent of those 48 teams have gone on to hoist the Stanley Cup. Even worse, home teams that swept the first two games of the series have a 32-3 all-time series record.

Game 2 was simply a must-win and it looked like the Rangers were doing all of the right things early to suggest they were prepared to do what was necessary to win. Their forecheck was far more ferocious and therefore more effective than it was in Game 1. They scored on the power play and continued challenging Los Angeles with speed. Henrik Lundqvist made several key stops early on as well to ensure the Rangers sustained their lead and momentum.

Unlike Game 1, they held strong in the first period after going up 2-0, showing that perhaps this time around they had learned from their mistakes and perhaps they did. But the Kings' resilience proved too great as the game progressed.

Now there was more to this Game 2 loss than meets the eye. With the Rangers ahead 4-2 in the third period, Dwight King scored a tip-in goal for the Kings, but had also appeared to impede Lundqvist from moving over far enough to have a chance to make the save. It very well could have been -- and perhaps should have been -- called goaltender interference. That made it 4-3 and it may have knocked both Lundqvist and the rest of the team out of whack.

From then on, the Kings really took control of the game and poured it on. A tying goal seemed imminent. Minutes after Lundqvist had a lengthy discussion with Dan O'Halloran about the third goal the Kings scored rather questionably, a broken play in front of the Rangers net and a bad giveaway by Chris Kreider led to Marian Gaborik tying the game 4-4.

Though the no-call on the goaltender interference appeared to be a bad miss, the Rangers had to find a way to shake it off. They were still playing with the lead and had their chances to extend it again, but they were scrambly.

"They score a goal and I can't even move," Lundqvist said after the game. "It's extremely frustrating."

Lundqvist may have taken the bad call worse than anyone and he also may have taken the loss worse than anyone as Chris Johnston of Sportsnet shared the scene in the Rangers locker room after Game 2.

When asked his thoughts on the goaltender interference no-call, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said "Ask the NHL."

The Rangers undoubtedly had a gripe, but again, those are the kind of things that happen in a game that a team has to deal with. It doesn't make it right, it just makes it so.

There was more controversy in the second overtime, not long before the Kings ended the game when a puck was shot over the glass by the Kings defenseman. The linesman said it got a piece of the glass, but on multiple replays it never appeared to, though it was rather difficult to tell. That would have been a delay of game penalty at a turning-point moment for the Rangers. Again, they didn't get the call they needed and again, they didn't respond well enough to it.

Soon after, Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell's shot was deflected into the net by captain Dustin Brown, giving the Kings a 2-0 lead and a stranglehold on the series.

The Kings are definitely getting some breaks right now and haven't been the most consistent team, but there has to be some level of confidence in that. They're aware of the luck they've had, but they've also made some of their own luck.

"Are we playing good or are we not," Kings forward Jarret Stoll, who scored a fluky goal for the Kings' first tally of the night, asked hypothetically. "Right now we're doing a lot of things that aren't in our game, haven't been in our game for years here. We're getting away with it I think right now."

The question becomes now, how on earth do the Rangers recover from this? They can take some solace in that they were one shot away from winning both Games 1 and 2 and some bad bounces here and there sunk them, but that can't be all that comforting. Particularly, Game 2 was right there for the taking. They had it in their grasps and it just slipped away.

They did overcome a 3-1 series deficit to dispatch the Penguins earlier this postseason, and the Kings have blown a 2-0 series lead before like they did against the Anaheim Ducks. But this time it feels different. This time it feels far more daunting a task for the Rangers as they face the deepest team they've met this postseason.

There are few positives in going back to New York down 2-0, having blown two multigoal leads and having given up eight goals in the process. There's no amount of blame on the officials or any kind of excuse that will change that fact.

In games where they needed to be resilient in the face of some adversity, the Rangers weren't. How can they be expected to be in the rest of the series? We may soon find out just how powerful the draw of the Stanley Cup is because it is going to take something extra special for the Rangers to climb out of this most disastrous funk.

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