June 8, 2014
It took five periods of hockey, a controversial goaltender interference call in the third period, and a historic comeback; but the Los Angeles Kings polished off the Rangers in Game 2 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night, and are now just two wins away from winning the second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
While the Kings have a commanding two-games-to-none lead, I think the Rangers have shown better than expected in this series overall. Realistically, they’re just two shots away from being up two-to-nothing, and headed back to Manhattan.
I know everyone loves to get ahead of themselves when handicapping outcomes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but if the Rangers can continue playing this way, can continue to show they can legitimately hang with the Kings, they can get back into this series in New York.
One positive sign for the Rangers in Game 2: they managed 13 even-strength shots with Anze Kopitar on the ice on Saturday, after managing precisely zero shots on goal with Kopitar on the ice in Game 1. Again Alain Vigneault and the Rangers didn’t really seem to have a hard-match going for Kopitar, although his primary forward matchup was the Derek Stepan-line and he saw an awful lot of Dan Girardi/Ryan McDonagh.
Perhaps the big difference is the way Vigneault protected his top-liners in Game 2, and rolled with New York’s excellent third forward group of Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Denoit Pouliot as the “second-line” (at least for matchup purposes). Among Rangers forwards, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis saw the least time against Kopitar in Game 2 – less than New York’s fourth-line even – and that resulted in a more balanced outcome at the top of the lineup for New York.
I know Richards has been excellent this postseason, and really all year, but you can’t beat a team like the Kings in a 7 game series if you’re “sheltering” your top-line center to this extent. This is basically “exhibit B” (“exhibit A” is the forever term of Richards’ current deal) in the case to buyout Brad Richards this summer.
Alain Vigneault’s comments on the controversial goaltender intereference non-call that allowed the Kings to cut New York’s lead to one: “Ask the NHL”. Reviewing goaltender interference should be a no brainer at this point, every body knows this, and I hope we’ve now had enough high-profile incidents this postseason that this change is made by the competition committee this summer.
It was an ugly broken play, but Marian Gaborik’s wrist shot through traffic that tied the game was a pretty remarkable skill play. There wasn’t a New York defender who had a body on Gaborik or anything, but he got that shot off accurately and quickly and put it through a thicket of bodies. There aren’t a lot of players in the league who can finish that play.
Similarly, Marty St. Louis falling down and drilling that one-timer just under the bar in the second period was so, so impressive. St. Louis’ core-strength, control and coordination is evident in so much of what he does on the ice, he’s just a tremendous athlete, and one of my favorite players to watch.
One other note on an athlete in this series whose control and core-strength boggles my mind when I watch him play: Brian Boyle is a massive guy (like 6,8 on skates), who gets so low for face-offs, and still has the strength and leverage to use a power move on the draw as his go-to. I’m just always so impressed by this.
Some of the postgame notes per Jon Rosen of lakingsinsider.com left me shaking my head and laughing riotously. What the comeback Kings have done over the past week and a bit is nothing short of completely unbelievable. Here’s some choice nuggets:
The Kings are the first team in league history to win three consecutive playoff games in which they trailed by two goals. They have produced four multi-goal comebacks in one playoff year since the Flyers accomplished the feat in 1987.
So the Kings just accomplished something that has never been done in history, and tied a 27 year old record in the process… More:
The Kings are the first team to hold a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final after not holding a lead in either of the first two games. The only other time this has happened at any point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was in 1951, when the Canadiens defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in quadruple-overtime and 1-0 in triple-overtime during a 4-2 Semifinal series win.
The Kings haven’t led in this series for a single second, and have a 2-0 lead! My goodness.
Los Angeles has not led in their past 229:15, a span covering four games. The team's most recent lead ended when Duncan Keith scored at 11:34 of the third period in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
I mean, what even?
In other NHL news, the Maple Leafs – and six other teams – have reportedly asked the San Jose Sharks about Joe Thornton’s availability. I mean, why not? Thornton’s a great player still, in fact, he’s still the best forward on the Sharks roster (and it’s not even that close). He’s not a guy who relies on athleticism or speed either, and I suspect he’ll age pretty well and remain at least a productive power-play guy through his age 38 season.
Whether Thornton would be willing to accept a deal to the Maple Leafs is a totally different story, however, and CBC’s Elliotte Friedman suggests that Jumbo Joe will only accept a deal to play for a contender.
My dream Thornton scenario: the Rangers trade for him (J.T. Miller++ at least, maybe Miller, Zuccarello+) after they buyout Richards. Thornton/Stepan/Brassard would be an excellent 1-2-3 punch down the middle.
The Vancouver Canucks’ attempt to woo Ryan Kesler and keep him in the fold has failed, and the club is expected to deal him at or before the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (though they’re willing to hold on to him if they don’t get fair value apparently).
Kesler doesn’t quite have the puck possession fast ball that he used to, but he’s still one of the league’s best penalty-killers, a solid two-way option, and will score 20-25 easily. He should net a bundle in a prospective trade, and I’d presume Vancouver’s ask is at least four assets (including a top prospect, a young roster player, a first round pick and something else).
Jarome Iginla and the Bruins are negotiating an extension, which could get complicated. The Bruins, remember, can exceed the salary cap by $4 million since Marc Savard will spend all of next year on LTIR. They are, however, facing a cap penalty that should come in at roughly $4 million (or more) because of bonuses paid out to Iginla, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton this year.
The Bruins basically have about seven million in cap-space and need to get players like Reilly Smith, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowksi, three additional depth pieces, and one of Chad Johnson/Niklas Svedberg under contract. Looking at the fundamentals, you wonder if something has got to give on the trade market. Certainly it seems difficult to imagine that Boston will be able to make Iginla much of an offer.
The Panthers have already reached out to deposed former Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma, who immediately becomes the leading contender in Florida. Apparently he doesn’t change the equation in Vancouver’s head coaching search, where Kings assistant John Stevens and Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins remain the front runners.
Darcy Regier seems close to joining the Phoenix Coyotes organization, as a replacement for new Flames executive and Dragon’s Den scion Brad Treliving.
With the Penguins hiring Jim Rutherford this week, the music has basically stopped on the NHL’s GM carousel and it’ll be very interesting to see where experienced guys like Ray Shero, Mike Gillis and George McPhee land now.
McPhee would particularly interest me as a potential AGM if I ran an NHL organization, just because of how well the Capitals drafted during his tenure. He’s got ties to Linden and Quinn in Vancouver, I might also add.
As for Shero and Gillis, it’s anyones guess where they land, maybe the NHL front office for a spell?
Thomas Drance is a news editor at theScore.
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