Rangers @ Kings Recap: LA's Comeback Fortune Runs Out
The 2015 Rangers did what the Canucks, Predators, and 2014 Rangers couldn't: they held a third-period lead against LA.
The Los Angeles Kings made coming from behind an art form in the 2014 playoffs, and the New York Rangers were ultimately their final victim. This time around, the Kings waited a little too long to start that comeback, and New York held on for a 4-3 win at Staples.
We all know that this whole rematch thing meant a lot more to the losers of last years' Stanley Cup Final than it did to the winners. That's what made the opening minutes so startling. LA took control almost immediately, and their second and third lines each found the scoresheet in the opening six minutes. The reunited trio of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli hadn't quite found their scoring touch since getting back together, but all three got points on the first goal. Toffoli did the work along the boards in the neutral zone, Carter entered the zone and sped around the defense to feed Pearson in the slot. (Fun fact: Carter and Toffoli are LA's assist leaders at even strength despite their goal-scoring reputations. Pearson is LA's goal leader at even strength.)
When Justin Williams whistled a shot past New York backup Cam Talbot, LA had themselves an early cushion. Their first period play at even strength remained a shade better than New York's, but the Rangers' power play (which has scored in eight of their last ten) very quickly started making up ground. Five seconds after Mike Richards jostled with Martin St. Louis away from the puck, a point shot by Dan Boyle tipped off the stick of Jarret Stoll and bounced past Jonathan Quick.
New York did pick up their even strength play to start the second, as LA didn't muster a single shot attempt in the first four minutes. (So, a bit different than that first period start.) Two and a half minutes in, another deflection off Stoll's stick; Kevin Klein's shot changed direction slightly, and though Quick had a better chance at this one, he couldn't close the five-hole quickly enough. On the very next shift, Lee Stempniak won a board battle against Jake Muzzin and got to the slot, beat a screened Quick, and it was 3-2.
There was a lot of blame going around last night, and one of the chief recipients was Quick. Given the current state of the team's save percentage, it's understandable. It does raise the question, though: how much of last night's performance was Quick's fault? It's been shown that deflections are considerably tougher to stop than regular shots, and after Martin St. Louis scored the fourth goal from a wide open spot at the side of the net, plenty of people were targeting the Kings' PK rather than the guy in goal. Given that last night's PK defensive pairs were Doughty-Schultz and Greene-Muzzin, I am totally okay with that. (Muzzin gave up his PK spot, and a lot of his third period ice time, to Alec Martinez after his own struggles.) However, the Quick questions are fair as the Kings' goaltending has had a rough month overall.
Quick did what he usually does on these type of nights; he pulled out some incredibly acrobatic saves to keep the Kings within range. That left the Kings, who had faltered in the second and had been largely held in check in the third, to mount a furious comeback effort in the final ten minutes. When Williams scored his second of the night by knocking a puck out of midair, it honestly felt like the team was going to pull it off again. No such luck, even with Anze Kopitar ending an off-night by drawing a penalty to gain a 6-on-4 in the last minute. (Kopitar's line with Marian Gaborik and Dwight King was bad enough to force some Sutter shuffling; when Williams scored, he was skating alongside Kopitar and Dustin Brown.) Talbot made a couple stops, and the Rangers didn't even need snow on the goal line to hold on.