LOS ANGELES -- With his team now trailing 1-0 in the Stanley Cup finals, New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault issued a clear, unwavering message to his squad, perceived by many as the underdogs against the Los Angeles Kings.
What he saw Wednesday night was not good enough. Not even close.
“One thing that's real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we're not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our A-game. It is that strong of an opponent that we're playing against,” Vigneault said in his press briefing Thursday from the team’s hotel in Santa Monica.
Vigneault lauded the 40-save performance by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, but didn’t sound too enthused about the collective effort.
“We had [Lundqvist] that brought his A-game last night. We had a couple guys. I don't want to name who I think brought their A-game. But our B-game won't do it,” Vigneault said. “We're not going to win if we bring our B-game to the table."
Though the Rangers had a strong first period on the road, the team’s dominant play tapered off as the game went on, with the third period a particularly glaring display of lopsided action.
With the game tied at 2, the Kings controlled the period, outshooting the Rangers 20-3 and holding New York without a shot for the first 11:43 of play.
“They had great gap in the third, really took away a lot of our options, forced us to spend time in our zone, forced us to change when we actually got the puck out as opposed to being able to go on the forecheck and make them change,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played a team-leading 31:12 in the series opener.
The Rangers seemed to surprise the Kings with their speed -- in fact, Game 1 hero Justin Williams admitted as much in his postgame interviews -- as both Carl Hagelin and Benoit Pouliot raced in on breakaways to score on Kings netminder Jonathan Quick to jump out to a 2-0 lead, but they were caught chasing the play far too much in the final 20 minutes.
“I think in the first period we did a great job of using our speed, getting pucks deep, also getting pucks at the net, which gave us some offensive time, a couple faceoffs in the offensive zone,” Hagelin said. “In the third we had way too many turnovers, didn't get deep enough in their zone. They're a good team. If you give them time to skate with the puck, time to spend a lot of time in our end, they're going to do a good job.”
The Rangers got a taste of the Kings' unrelenting, physical game even if it took a while for L.A. to get going. Nothing about that came as a surprise, Vigneault insisted. The Rangers were anticipating having their hands full.
“Everything that I expected, everything that we had talked to our players about, about what to expect, they did it down to a T,” Vigneault said. “They keep doing it. They stay with it. They don't deviate. It's tough to exploit any areas because they're that good.”
In fact, Vigneault singled out the Kings as superior to any other team the Rangers have faced this postseason, which included the likes of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens.
Each of those three clubs offered something a little different. The Flyers were physical. The Penguins were skilled. The Habs were extremely structured.
The Kings, it seems, have it all.
“They're one of the best teams I've seen in a long time,” Vigneault said. “Areas to exploit, they don't jump out at you. We're going to have to be better than we were.”