LOS ANGELES - Rapper Eminem wasn’t talking about the New York Rangers’ best chance to win a Stanley Cup when he wrote the Academy Award-winning lyrics to Lose Yourself. It only sounds like it.
“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment,” he asked. “Would you capture it, or just let it slip?”
That was the question staring the underdog Rangers in the face heading into Game 1 of their championship series with the Los Angeles Kings.
And they let it slip.
They had the Kings tired, physically and emotionally spent after that seven-game classic with the Blackhawks. They had them down 2-0. They took them to overtime and were one goal away from stealing Game 1 and possibly changing the entire complexion of the final.
And they let it slip.
It might be prematurely dismissive to suggest that was the Rangers’ only chance to win this series, but many believe their best chance absolutely needed to begin with a sneak-attack victory in Game 1.
“We went into (Wednesday) night’s game focused on that game and, obviously, our expectations were to win it,” said Alain Vigneault during an off-day media availability with the Rangers coach and three players in Santa Monica.
“We didn’t do it. You guys can analyze why we didn’t do it and if that was our game to win. We’re going to turn the page. We’re going to make a couple of adjustments, focus on the next game and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
The next question is whether their best shot is good enough.
There will be no sneaking up on the Kings now. The Western Conference champions, admittedly gassed in Game 1, will be coming off two days rest (one game in six days) the next time they meet.
And now that they have tasted Rangers blood, they’ll be wanting more.
“One thing is really evident to me and it should be to our whole group,” said Vigneault. “We’re not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our ‘A’ game. It is that strong of an opponent that we’re playing against.
“They’re one of the best teams I’ve seen in a long time. Areas to exploit? They don’t jump out at you. So we’re going to have to be better than we were.”
That’s the really sobering part. The Kings, even when running on fumes and heavy legs, are everything the Rangers feared they’d be.
Any hope that L.A.’s reputation had somehow been overblown, that the Kings were very good, but maybe not the relentless, angry playoff machine everyone’s making them out to be, vanished in a humbling third period that saw them outshoot New York 20-3.
“Everything I expected, everything we had talked to our players about what to expect, they did it down to a ‘T’ and they keep doing it and they stay with it and they don’t deviate,” said Vigneault.
“It’s tough to exploit any areas because they’re that good. They’re structured, they have skill, they can play a fast game and they’re physical. It’s a pretty big challenge.
“But in saying that, looking back at it, I believe that for 40 minutes we went head-to-head with them.”
And then they let it slip.
“When they had a push, we had one guy who had a big push, our goaltender, who permitted us to stay in that game and we were one shot away,” said Vigneault.
“I think our group can be better.”
It has to be better.
“We find ourselves on the wrong end of Game 1, it’s unfortunate,” said defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “You don’t want to start a series down one. But we think our group has a lot more to give. That’s what (Thursday) will be about — mentally thinking about what you can do better.
“Ultimately, I feel this group has a lot more to give. We’re going to need that in Game 2.”