Rangers the better team but still losing to Kings

New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist lies on the ice during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final...

New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist lies on the ice during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, June 7, 2014. (LUCY NICHOLSON/Reuters)

Robert Tychkowski, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:28 PM ET

The New York Rangers are faster than Los Angeles and can stand up physically; their goalie is matching Jonathan Quick save for save; they’ve outplayed the Kings for most of this series and haven’t trailed for a single second of regulation time.

In short, they have been the better team through two games of the Stanley Cup final.

Yet they are going home down 2-0, having to settle for the only explanation that makes sense right now, even though it really doesn’t: That’s just what the Kings do.

They fall behind by two goals, but never three, teasing you into believing you’re in control. Then some kind of instinctual switch goes off and they hack away at your lead until it’s gone. Then they beat you in overtime.

To the Kings, it doesn’t seem to matter who deserves to win a game, only that they win.

“It’s especially frustrating the way we played (in Game 2),” said New York’s Marc Staal, after Los Angeles came back from two goals down to beat the Rangers for the second game in a row.

“I thought we had a really solid game. We were in their end a lot, had a lot of chances. We hit a couple of posts, a couple that went cross crease and we were an inch or two away from putting the game away.”

But they couldn’t. The Rangers are learning the hard way what Chicago, Anaheim and San Jose learned the hard way: Putting the L.A. Kings on the ropes is one thing, putting them on the mat is quite another.

“We really felt like we could win (Game 2),” said Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi, as perplexed as anyone that the Rangers, not the Kings, are the ones in trouble. “At 4-2 going into the third there we were thinking we’d play a solid 20 minutes. Our third periods all year have been really good.

“But they have been in three Game 7s and came out on top. They were Stanley Cup champions a couple years ago. They know what it takes to win.”

Other than the results, the Kings are not at all happy with the first two games, either. As confident as they are in their ability to take a punch, they know there is no future in leaving their fate to third-period comebacks and overtime breaks.

“Are we playing good or are we not?” asked centre Jarret Stoll, who isn’t sure he has an answer for his own rhetorical question. “Right now we’re doing a lot of things that aren’t in our game, haven’t been in our game for years here, but we’re getting away with it.

“Don’t get me wrong, we did a lot of good things to come back. Down 2‑0, down 4‑2. Resiliency to come back, battle for that tying goal and the winning goal again.

“It’s just how we’re playing. We’ve got to be honest with how we’re playing. We know we have more.”

They’ll need it, he suspects, in Game 3. The Kings are bracing for as strong a push as they’ve seen all playoffs, and know that waiting for that third-period survival instinct to kick in might not be in their best interests against a Ranger team that does not intend to let them off the hook a third time.

“They’re in the Stanley Cup final, they went through a lot, they’re a good team,” said Stoll. “We never expected this to be an easy series or a short series. It’s going to be a long series. It’s going to be a very tough series.”

The Rangers know they’re close to breaking through L.A.’s invisible barrier. But they also know that trailing 2-0 means they’re close to being out of it, too. Going down 3-0, or even 3-1 if the Kings split at Madison Square Garden, is likely the end of them.

“We’re playing for the biggest prize in hockey and we’ve got a 2-0 hole here we’ve gotta dig ourselves out of,” said Girardi, adding the Rangers still believe, perhaps even more strongly now, that they can pull this out. “I don’t think we’re devastated. Obviously we’re disappointed that we didn’t get a better outcome with the two games we played in L.A. We had the lead, a controlling lead, and it’s just unfortunate we couldn’t hold on to those two-goal leads.

“We’ve gotta take everything we did well and bring it over to Game 3.”


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