LOS ANGELES -- The New York Rangers avoided being swept on home ice with a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night in Game 4, but they were lucky to leave Madison Square Garden with a victory, and they know it. Even Rangers forward Derick Brassard said Thursday that the team "didn’t deserve to win" given their poor play, particularly in the third period. Luckily for the Blueshirts, they were carried by a sensational 40-save performance from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stole the game outright against a dominant Kings team seeking its second Stanley Cup championship in three years. Now the Kings have the chance to lift the iconic trophy on home ice Friday, as they host the Rangers in Game 5 at Staples Center. Will they emerge victorious? Or will the Rangers live to play another day?
Pressure building: Prior to Game 4, Kings veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell said his team didn’t want to give the Rangers “any confidence, whatsoever,” so you have to wonder if securing a win in Game 4 allowed New York to restore hope that this may be a series yet. Of course, the Kings know well that a 3-0 deficit is not impossible to recover from, because they surmounted the same daunting hole against the San Jose Sharks less than two months ago in the first round. The Rangers have also already erased a 3-1 series deficit, in their second-round set against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps Wednesday’s win was simply delaying the inevitable -- another championship for this Kings squad -- but according to Lundqvist yesterday, the Rangers feel that if they can sneak out with a win Friday and bring the series back to New York, the pressure will then shift entirely to L.A.
Demoted: Veteran center Brad Richards, who has also earned the reputation as the de facto captain of this Rangers team, was demoted to the fourth line Wednesday night in the wake of his disappointing play this series. The 34-year-old has been held off the score sheet in six straight games and has seen his ice time diminish as a result. He is, however, still treated as a mainstay on the team’s first power-play unit. All this raises the obvious question about what will happen with the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner once the season ends, with a potential compliance buyout looming. The Rangers must act quickly on the decision; they have a small window between 48 hours after the Stanley Cup finals and June 30 to make their choice on whether he remains in New York or not.
Territorial edge: If the Kings can pick up where they left off in the third period of Wednesday’s game, they will be in good shape, considering they dominated the Rangers in the final frame. L.A. outshot the Rangers 15-1 in the third period, though Lundqvist was resolute while under siege. A relentless Kings forecheck gave the Blueshirts trouble coming out of their own zone cleanly. The Kings gave them fits through the neutral zone, too. But the Rangers have one huge asset working in their favor heading into Friday’s action: Lundqvist has been insanely good when facing elimination. In the past eight games in which his team was facing elimination, Lundqvist is 8-0 with a 0.99 goals against average and a .968 save percentage. Can he keep that record pristine Friday night? Not if the Kings have anything to say about it.