Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rangers keep Cup on hold

NEW YORK—Even the “King” at his best needed some help to keep the Kings from lifting the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden.
Henrik Lundqvist got that in the form of season-saving plays by Anton Stralman and Derek Stepan on the goal line and did the rest himself, willing the N.Y. Rangers to a 2-1 victory in Game 4 last night to stave off elimination and forced a Game 5 back in L.A. tomorrow night.

“When you play this game, you have to battle, but then you have to rely on your teammates,” Lundqvist noted.
“Sometimes you have to rely on some luck,” he added.
“Tonight we had it a couple times.”
Lundqvist finished with 40 saves on 41 shots to extend his streak of home elimination-game wins to eight.
Along the way, he kept the Kings at bay with the kind of performance his teammates have come to expect.
“It was pretty self-explanatory out there,” said defenceman Dan Girardi.
“He was the ‘King’ tonight for us, making huge saves when he had to.”
The most memorable saves, though, came from Stralman in the first period and Stepan with just over a minute left in the third.
Midway through the first period with the Rangers up 1-0 on a deflection goal by Benoit Pouliot, Kings’ defenceman Alec Martinez thought he had scored.
Instead, Stralman batted the puck off the goal line after first lifting Jeff Carter’s stick out of the way.
“I just saw the puck and all I tried to do basically was get the stick out, and obviously the puck, as well,” Stralman said.
“It’s one of those things you need a little luck to kind of succeed with.”
Luck, some quick reflexes, and enough wherewithal not to knock the puck in while trying to avoid what could have been a disastrous goal against for the Rangers.
“A lot of times you start panicking and you end up whacking it in your own net, and we did a good job of being calm when it was sitting there and getting it back underneath Hank for a whistle,” said Rangers’ defenceman Marc Staal.
“If they get that one, they have that momentum, and we were able to make a stand long enough that they didn’t.”
The one-goal lead that stood up thanks to Stralman became two—New York’s fifth of that kind in this final—when Martin St. Louis scored 6:27 into the second.
A bad bounce in a series full of them for the Rangers led to Kings’ captain Dustin Brown scoring just over two minutes later.
The knob of Girardi’s stick appeared to break, springing Brown for the breakaway goal at 8:46.
After the Rangers blew two-goal leads in both Games 1 and 2, Lundqvist couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.”
From that point on, the Rangers just tried to hang on. They were outshot 27-6 from the point St. Louis scored to make it 2-0 until the clock hit zeros at the end of the third.
Then Stepan saved the hockey season with 1:11 left in the third.
Again Martinez put the puck on net for a scoring chance that probably should have gone in. And after Tanner Pearson deflected it under Lundqvist, it rolled slowly through the crease until it stopped centimetres from the line.
It was the snow that stopped the puck there. And while Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault joked, “Thank God for soft ice now and then,” Lundqvist had an explanation for what felt like a miracle on 33rd Street.
“It’s probably the product of moving a lot,” said Lundqvist, who made 15 third-period saves while New York managed just one shot.
“I stay deep in the net so there’s a lot of snow there.”
Lundqvist was yelling at Wes McCauley to blow his whistle but the referee who’s considered one of—if not the best—in the NHL had perfect positioning and saw the puck the entire time.
“Then I realized it was behind me for a couple seconds,” Lundqvist noted.
“I actually apologized. But he was cool about it.”
Stepan was even cooler under that pressure. Knowing full well he couldn’t cover the puck with his hand, lest a penalty shot be awarded, the Rangers’ centre used his glove to sweep it under Lundqvist just as Stralman did earlier with his stick.
“Those are the big plays we need at certain moments to keep the momentum or shift the momentum,” Stepan said.
“Obviously, I just don’t want it to go in the net.
“I was just trying to do whatever I can to stop it.”
Stepan used the word of the night to describe that play: lucky.
Drew Doughty probably had a different reaction when he looked up to the video screen to see what happened.
“There were two like that tonight,” he said. “That was the difference in the game.”
No team had been swept in the Cup final since the 1998 Washington Capitals—and it would have been the first time a visiting team celebrated this championship at the Garden since 1972.
“We didn’t want to see the Cup coming out on our home ice tonight,” Lundqvist said.
“Yeah, just the thought of it makes me feel sick.”

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