Keys to New York Rangers Coming Back in the Stanley Cup Final
The New York Rangers dropped a heartbreaker in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the LA Kings, 3-2. The Blueshirts raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first period before surrendering three straight goals to the home team, including Justin Williams’ game winner 4:36 into overtime. It is a tough loss to swallow for the Rangers and their fans, as they know mistakes and their inability to finish cost them. Let’s look at what worked and what did not work for the Blueshirts.
Speed – The Rangers came out flying in the first period, jumping all over a Kings team that clearly was not ready to play. Both of team’s first period goals were direct results of speed. Pouliot got the team on the board by stealing a puck from Doughty and breaking away from the Kings’ defense. Just a short while later, Hagelin turned the jets on during the penalty kill and forced Quick to make a tough save that rebounded off a defender’s skate and into the net. The Rangers became more stagnant as the game went on, and the Kings took advantage. They need to bring the speed game for a full 60 minutes, because it was the one clear thing that gave the Kings trouble.
Penalty Kill – The Rangers penalty kill continued to look sharp, killing off 4 out of 4 Kings’ power plays. Dating back to the game 1 of the Penguins series, the Rangers have killed 80 out of 83 power plays, good for 96.4%. The combination of Boyle and Hagelin on the PK has been lethal, as the duo created more chances while shorthanded than they gave up, including Hagelin’s goal.
Lundqvist – While Lundqvist let up 3 goals, he also made 40 saves. The Rangers did a decent job of limiting the Kings chances in the 1st and 2nd periods. However, in the 3rd period the Rangers looked sluggish and a step behind the Kings, as LA fired 20 shots at Lundqvist. Hank stopped all 20 and single-handedly forced overtime for the Rangers (who had just 3 shots in the 3rd).
WHAT DID NOT WORK:
Power play – The power play struggled again in game 1, going 0-3. The Kings made it difficult for the Rangers to enter the zone, and once the Rangers did, the PP was not fluent or effective. Dating back to game 1 in Pittsburgh, the Rangers are 8 for 55 on the power play, or 14.5%. That percentage includes the game 1 blowout in Montreal, where the Rangers scored three power play goals. While the PK’s dominance has been able to basically cancel out the Rangers power play struggles, the team needs to figure it out. The Kings are too talented and too deep 5-on-5 for the Rangers to squander on the power play, so look for the PP to be an X-factor moving forward.
Turnovers – Of course, turnovers are never a good thing. Defensive zone turnovers are even worse. Derek Stepan’s turnover late in the first period was extremely costly. The Rangers were up 2-0 and in control of the game until Stepan held onto the puck just a little too long. His clearing attempt hit a Kings’ skate and led directly to Kyle Clifford’s goal, giving the Kings life heading into the second period. And, of course Dan Girardi’s giveaway in OT led to the game winner for Williams. Girardi whiffed on a puck, fell to his knees, and blindly threw a pass up the boards right to Mike Richards, who found a wide-open Williams in the slot for the winner. It goes without saying that these things cannot happen in the finals.
Finishing – The Rangers had plenty of chances to put the game to 3-0 and 3-1, but failed to do so. Against a Kings team that is known to make comebacks, you have to take advantage of your opportunities. The Rangers failed to do so, and it cost them. Zuccarello had a great chance on the power play, as the puck came across to him with an open net but his shot hit a Kings’ leg. Just a bit later, Stepan made a great pass to St. Louis through the slot, who had the whole side of the net to shoot at. He mishit it and chipped it over the bar, and once again the Rangers failed to take advantage of their chances. In the Stanley Cup Final, missed opportunities are always going to come back to bite you.
Still, the Rangers have positives to take out of game 1. They were up 2-0 on the road and had plenty of chances to win the game. It was a game that they could have stolen and thus taken home ice, but that did not happen. I would not call game 2 a must win after what the Rangers showed in the Penguins series, but a tied series coming back to New York looks an awful lot better than a 2-0 hole. One thing that has been consistent with the Rangers this post season is their ability to bounce back, which hopefully happens in game 2.
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