June 8, 2014

Thomas Drance

2014-06-08

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 King