By the time the puck dropped in Game Four, we were all sick of hearing about luck. Looks like we'll get another two days to hear about it, but this time, it'll be explained as the reason the New York Rangers are alive in this series. That's not fair to Henrik Lundqvist, though, who stonewalled the Los Angeles Kings tonight to send the Stanley Cup Final to a Game Five.
The starts to games have been an issue for the Kings in this series, and they nearly allowed a goal ten seconds in when Carl Hagelin was just a second too late to Rick Nash's pass in the slot. Hagelin and Nash joined Derek Stepan on the first line for this game, as Alain Vigneault tried some new line combinations. They weren't effective from a possession standpoint, as we'll soon find out, but there were some positive effects on the depth lines. In particular, moving Brad Richards to the third line and increasing ice time for guys like Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot was probably a smart decision. Pouliot ended up with the game's first goal after Willie Mitchell went to the box; just after the power play expired, Pouliot deflected a high John Moore shot over the shoulder of Jonathan Quick.
The Kings went to the power play after a puck-over-glass penalty soon after, one of only two man advantages they would have on the evening. They nearly cashed in, but Alec Martinez's shot stopped on the goal line, and Anton Stralman's stick knocked the puck back before Jeff Carter's stick could knock it forward. Boy, a puck stopping on the goal line? How crazy is that? I bet we won't see that again this season! Anyway, after Tanner Pearson was denied on a backhand by Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers took their 1-0 lead to the locker room, where I can only assume Alain Vigneault made a Netflix joke again. (He was really proud of that reference.)
Whatever he said, it worked, though Lundqvist had to deflect a Marian Gaborik shot onto the crossbar less than a minute into the second. Brian Boyle drew a hooking call on Mitchell, who took two minor penalties for the second straight game, and the power play helped the Rangers dictate the play. Soon, New York caught LA off guard with a quick breakout, and with two guys around the net, they got another chance. Derek Stepan's shot hit Chris Kreider and Alec Martinez and crept through Jonathan Quick's legs, and Martin St. Louis slammed the puck home. (Quick was just fine tonight, but obviously, he was overshadowed.)
LA doesn't get fazed by 2-0 leads, but another penalty three minutes later could have spelled big trouble. The Kings killed it off, and got a huge bonus when Dan Girardi's stick snapped near the end of the power play. Dustin Brown took the puck the other way, and after watching King after King fail to score on breakaways over the last few weeks, it was a treat to see this:
Brown's goal made it 2-1, and the Kings smelled blood. But they didn't score again. What happened?
Lundqvist, primarily. Shots were 26-3 in favor of the Kings after Brown's goal, and reading that again, I still can't quite comprehend that shot advantage. The top six, questioned a bit after starting the series quietly, was excellent tonight at everything except putting the puck in. For one, Jeff Carter had the two best chances of the second, poke-checked in tight and then stopped by Lundqvist's pad after he blew by Dan Girardi. He may not have been the most dangerous guy on his own line, though, as Tanner Pearson had eight shots on goal... four more than anyone else. Pearson earned the third star of tonight's game, and rightfully so.
As for the first line? Brown was stopped again by Lundqvist in a couple bids for goal #2, while Anze Kopitar trailed only Pearson in tonight's Corsi numbers and largely neutralized Stepan's line. Kopitar was also out there with Pearson and Carter when the Kings narrowly missed a late equalizer; Alec Martinez once again squeaked a shot through Lundqvist, but again, it stopped on the edge of the goal line. That's the photo at the top of the article, and you'll notice Derek Stepan looking behind Lundqvist; Stepan would knock the puck back from the goal line, and that was as close as the Kings would come to tying the game.
No panic in LA, especially after the way in which they dominated the second half of Game Four. That doesn't mean it would be an excellent idea to wrap up this series as soon as possible. The number remains at one.