The New York Rangers survived a chaotic third period at Madison Square Garden last night to send the Stanley Cup Final back to L.A. There were a lot of positives that came out of the win, but a few negatives that need to be addressed if the Rangers want to keep playing past Friday. Let's take a look at what happened last night, and what's coming up for the Rangers with another thoughts segment.
1. The Rangers are still alive, and before I get to the impartial portion of this post I'd like to take this time to celebrate with you all. Sure it's just one win, but it's the first win in the Stanley Cup Final since 1994, and that's something to be proud of. Considering the Kings didn't hold back saying that they wanted to finish the series last night, the Rangers were faced with a tall task and won the game despite that. This group has a lot to be proud of regardless of what happens Friday.
2. Speaking of Friday, if the Rangers play like they did in Game Four they will not win on Friday. The Rangers were beaten in essentially every aspect of the game except for the scoreboard, so they stole a game from the Kings. Let's not forget that the Kings stole Game Three from the Rangers (by a wider margin, but the possession numbers and shot totals indicate the Rangers dominated play) so this series has been unpredictable so far. Anything can happen, and that benefits the Rangers going forward, considering what they need to do to win the series.
3. Getting out-shot in the third period 15-1 (1!) is embarrassing at best, and the Rangers are lucky to still be alive in the series. One of the biggest strengths of both the post-season and regular season for New York has been their third period success, but they are getting outplayed in all aspects in the third period all series. Henrik Lundqvist bailed them out last night, but going forward this is a serious issue that needs to be figured out for the Rangers to have a shot at winning.
4. Lundqvist was amazing in Game Four after giving up three goals on fifteen shots in Game Three. The argument can be made that the three goals allowed by Lundqvist in Game Three were all not his fault, but the fact remains that he needs to outplay Jonathan Quick for the Rangers to win the series. Quick's second goal allowed in Game Four was a gaffe by him, while Lundqvist's only goal allowed was on a breakaway.
5. Dan Girardi was on the ice for the Kings' only goal, leading many, including myself, to yell about how bad he has been this series. Girardi has been on the ice for the last seven goals by the Kings, which is of course alarming. What is important to remember, however, is that this is not the Girardi we will be seeing every night for the next six seasons. Girardi may be slow, but he is still an above-average defenseman that can be a top line stopper when playing his best. Girardi is simply having a terrible series, much like Ryan McDonagh did in the Flyers series.
6. I like what Alain Vigneault did by juggling the lines, but the Rangers had serious communication issues all night. There were passes going to the Kings, passes going to no one, players skating into each other, broken odd man rushes due to offsides, and simple mistakes all night that would be easily avoidable if players communicated on the ice. I like to give Pierre McGuire flack for being repetitive, but there is something to the Kings success and their being one of the most vocal teams on the ice.
7. How about Derek Stepan realizing to sweep the puck under Henrik Lundqvist rather than covering the puck with his glove? Also give the referee credit for blowing the play dead at the right time, and praise the ice for stopping the Kings from tying the game. Considering the missed opportunity there, and Stralman stopping the puck on the line earlier in the game, the Rangers have now gotten their fair share of luck.
8. Brad Richards was horrendous again. If anyone is going to make a terrible read or turnover to cost the Rangers the series it will be him.
9. It's easy to get excited about the possibility of a comeback and to cite the Penguins series as an example of the possibility not being so unrealistic, but the Kings are not the Penguins. This Rangers team is better than the Penguins team that they played, as they were better than the Canadiens and the Flyers. The issue for New York is that they are not better than the Kings. As a matter of fact, the Kings are actually a better team than the Rangers, which hasn't been as obvious as the media claims it to be so far through this series, but is still true. The Rangers will have to win three more in a row against a team that is slightly better than them. The difference between being the slightly better team against the Penguins and the slightly worse team against the Kings could be the deciding factor in the Rangers quest for a comeback.
10. The top line once again was terrific all night except for on offense, which will keep the Rangers from getting blown out, but won't bring the Rangers to three wins in a row. New York badly needs production from their top line, and soon. At this point I find myself mostly expecting goals from the lines in this order: 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 4th. That speaks to the depth New York boasts, but is also an issue when facing a solid depth team in the Kings.
11. While it's tough not to get excited in the Stanley Cup Finals, it's also tough to get too excited when down 3-1. Every game is the biggest game of the season now for the Rangers, but none will be as daunting of a task as game five. If everything goes as expected the Kings will be playing even stronger than they did in game four with the boost of their home crowd. Drew Doughty spoke about the need to put the Rangers away, and there's no doubt the Kings know the hope they would be allowing the Rangers to have if the Rangers were to take game five. It should be terrific, intense hockey, and if New York prevails we have ourselves a series.