Cross Checks: Stanley Cup

Kings' Brown dreaming of Cup celebration

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
NEW YORK -- The Stanley Cup will be inside Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

The Los Angeles Kings will be able to hoist it with a victory in Game 4.

“I think it’s fair to say anybody who is not thinking about that going into the next game is not being honest,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said Tuesday. “At the same time, we’ve had the ability not to look too far ahead.

[+] EnlargeDustin Brown
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesDustin Brown says it's natural to think about lifting the Stanley Cup at this stage.
"We’ve also had the experience of being through this same exact situation, being up 3-0, so we need to lean on each other and that experience and be focused and ready to go.”

No team has completed a Stanley Cup finals sweep since 1998.

“Everyone’s talking about a 3-0 lead, but you need four,” center Jarret Stoll told reporters Wednesday. "That’s what it’s all about and it’s always the hardest to get, so we gotta make sure we’re ready to go tonight.

“Guys are in a good place. Everybody’s confident. We just gotta make sure we’re playing our game, our style, our way. We gotta play a good game to beat these guys. They’re gonna have their best game tonight, and we have to have ours to be in it and go where we wanna go.”

The Kings, who became the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series in the first round against the San Jose Sharks, want to eliminate the Rangers on Wednesday night.

“You don’t want to give them any confidence whatsoever,” defenseman Willie Mitchell said.

The Kings have plenty of Conn Smythe candidates, including center Anze Kopitar (5 goals, 21 assists in the playoffs), center Jeff Carter (10-14), right winger Justin Williams (8-16), right winger Marian Gaborik (13-8) and defenseman Drew Doughty (5-12).

“That’s an award that a lot of NHLers obviously aspire to have,” Williams said Tuesday. “But at the same time, when you’re presented with it, I think a lot of guys just want to put it aside and look to the big jug. That’s pretty much how I can explain it.

“To be even mentioned with these big guys in that conversation is awesome. But, hey, the big one is what matters. God, I want to taste it again.”

NEW YORK -- Maybe it was to serve as a reminder of what they are still playing for heading into Game 4. Maybe it was simply an oversight, a function of a bleary-eyed staff misplacing a rug in the aftermath of yet another demoralizing loss.

The New York Rangers’ logo was left uncovered Tuesday, spanning a wide swath of their immaculate dressing room floor.

And when people began trampling over the pristine patch of carpet -- a forbidden act among hockey purists -- there wasn’t even a forceful, threatening warning to stay off (this is the norm), just one respectful plea.

Is this the way the Rangers will go out? Without putting up a fight?

[+] EnlargeDerick Brassard
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Rangers must get back on their feet after a demoralizing Game 3 loss Monday.
When players dutifully faced the media Tuesday afternoon in the wake of a 3-0 shutout loss in Game 3 the night before -- a defeat that leaves them trailing 3-0 in their Stanley Cup finals series against the Los Angeles Kings -- optimism was in short supply.

Sure, players talked about the belief that remains, the adversity already vanquished in what has been an emotional spring. But platitudes and clichés aside, it wasn’t hard to discern how the Rangers were feeling.

It was evident on their faces, their measured words, their slightly slumping shoulders. Despondent. Sullen. Defeated.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” de facto captain Brad Richards said. “It’s pretty much impossible to be upbeat.”

Richards was only saying what was abundantly clear. The sense of regret, frustration, anger even, was hanging thick in the air Tuesday. The team is tired, frustrated and staring at a daunting task ahead. They are in no mood for positivity and they will make no apologies about that.

“We’re down 3-0. We’re all lacking sleep. This is tough,” said an agitated coach Alain Vigneault. “Excuse us if today we’re not real cheery. But tomorrow, I can tell you we’re going to show up.”

No griping about puck luck or bad bounces. No excuses, period. Henrik Lundqvist has to play lights-out. Rick Nash has to finish. Richards has to lead, not just off the ice, but on it as well.

The Rangers will have to show up and more Wednesday against a Kings team waiting and willing to pounce, ready to shove their second Stanley Cup championship in three years down the Blueshirts' throats. No doubt the Kings can sense the fragility in the opposing dressing room. They can understand it, too, considering seven weeks ago the Kings were in the same position, trailing the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in their first-round series.

So they will show no mercy to the battered Blueshirts, and the Rangers have to be similarly unwilling to budge.

“We don’t want to end our season losing a game at home and give the Stanley Cup to their team,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “It’s not going to happen that way.”

The Rangers will have to remember that logo, what it means and what it represents, when they don the sweater in Game 4 and try to avoid a sweep at the Kings' hands on home ice. No matter how surprising and successful this run has been for the team, a sweep carries both stigma and shame. It would cast a dark shadow over what has otherwise been a sensational, inspiring postseason.

Now, it must come down to nothing more than pride. Pride in the logo, pride in their performance, pride in one another.

“We definitely don’t want to get swept in the Stanley Cup finals, and we don’t want to lose in front of our home fans, either,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “That’s not the way we want to go out.”

LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle did not hold back in the wake of the New York Rangers’ 5-4 double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals Saturday night, lashing out at the notion that the Rangers are underdogs in a series that is now 2-0 in favor of L.A. with the series shifting back to New York.

“I don’t give a s--- about underdogs. That’s ridiculous. Give me a break,” the rugged fourth-line forward said after the game, seething. “We’re not. We’re here, too. We’re a good team. And we can’t take any solace [in having played two close games], because we lost.”

Though the Kings entered the finals as heavy favorites, champions of what many feel to be a superior Western Conference, they have not held a lead for a single moment throughout the first two games of the series. And yet they lead 2-0 heading into Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

The Rangers didn’t make it this far to simply feel satisfied with being there for the spectacle of it all. They harbor the belief that they can compete with the big, physical Kings, and the first two games have shown just that. The Rangers have dominated stretches of play, building 2-0 leads in consecutive games, though their inability to close out their opponent has them in a daunting hole as they head back to the East Coast to defend home ice.

“We came here to win games. It doesn’t matter how the hell we do it, we have to win the game,” Boyle said. “If you don’t win the game, you didn’t do what you came to do, and that’s the worst feeling there is.”

Unlike Game 1, in which the Rangers unraveled after the Kings erased a two-goal deficit, the Blueshirts played a hard, purposeful hockey game Saturday night. Mats Zuccarello was buzzing, Rick Nash played with passion and physicality. Chris Kreider had a pair of glorious chances in overtime.

Still, they have nothing to show for it.

Part of that is a testament to the plucky Kings, who have outlasted their opponents in three consecutive seven-game series en route to their second Stanley Cup finals appearance in three years. The Kings have experience in abundance when it comes to this time of year. That has shown in their resolve.

Rallying to recover from deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2, the Kings became the first team in NHL history to win three straight playoff games when trailing by two goals.

“They've been in three Game 7s and come out on top. They were Stanley Cup champions a couple years ago. They know what it takes to win,” defenseman Dan Girardi said after the game. “They're getting those good bounces, those good plays in front. We're just going to have to find a way to, when we have the lead, to hold on to it, especially against a team like this. We know they're going to be coming. They have all that experience over there, and we need to be ready for that.”

Now, it’s up to the Rangers to be the comeback kids. They made a stunning turnaround in their second-round series to surmount a 3-1 series deficit and knock off the favored Pittsburgh Penguins. Can they forget the past two games and muster that magic again?

“You don't have a choice,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “You have to move on.”

LOS ANGELES -- A lot of time has been devoted to dissecting how defenseman Dan Girardi felt in the wake of the New York Rangers’ overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1: He was devastated, obviously, because of his costly mistake that led to Justin Williams’ game-winning goal.

But there was someone else on his team feeling pretty awful himself, and for an entirely different reason.

Serving the last game of his two-game suspension for his hit against Montreal Canadiens forward Dale Weise in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, defenseman John Moore had to witness his team drop the series opener while feeling completely helpless.

“It was tough to watch up there. It was really hard,” Moore said after the Rangers’ practice Friday at Staples Center. “We had our chances. Unfortunately, the bounces went the other way, but we were right there. It could’ve gone either way.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Moore
Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SportsBack from suspension after this hit on Dale Weise, John Moore is eager to get his first crack at Stanley Cup finals hockey.
You could hear the eagerness right in his voice, the 23-year-old earnestly wishing there was something he could’ve done to tip the balance in the other direction. He’ll get that chance on Saturday, when he is expected to draw into the lineup for Game 2.

Moore practiced with partner Kevin Klein on the third defensive pairing Friday, with depth defenseman Raphael Diaz skating again with regular scratch Justin Falk. Both are pretty good signs that Moore will jump right back into his regular spot.

“I’m sure [the nerves are] going to be bumping right up until puck drop, but it’s the Stanley Cup, you dream about this your whole life,” Moore said. "If you can’t have fun with this, you’re in the wrong spot. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid and now I get the chance to do it.”

Though Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has been cagey about lineup decisions all throughout the playoffs, he indicated that he is planning to insert Moore back into the lineup. And considering he missed only a pair of games, conditioning is not a concern for the club in throwing him back into action.

“As far as him being ready, I know that if we need him, he will be. He works extremely hard. He's only missed two games,” Vigneault said. “How he's going to respond after being suspended, that question goes to him. I think he'll be fine. He's given us some real important minutes this year and I think he'll be fine.”

For the record, Moore doesn’t anticipate changing anything in his game just because of the two-game ban he incurred for his hit on Weise. The first-time offender does not have the reputation as a head-hunter or a dirty player, and he sees no reason to adapt his approach because of that isolated incident.

“I think all that other stuff, it happened, and I certainly don’t see that affecting the way I play. It’s unfortunate what happened, but it’s hockey first and foremost. I’ve played it my whole life. I don’t see what happened changing my style,” he said.

Just as they rallied around Girardi following the unfortunate bounce on Wednesday night, Moore’s teammates stood behind him as well after he was hit with the suspension. Knowing Moore is the type of player with a sensitive disposition, they wanted to assure him that he’ll move past the incident.

“John, he's a very good person. Not that other guys aren't, but he's the type of guy that it would affect, being suspended,” de facto captain Brad Richards explained. “But that's over with. He's excited now, that the suspension is over. But we talked about it briefly. That stuff happens. It's a play in hockey that he probably would have done something different in hindsight. He's able to play now. We'll move on. Hopefully he can come in and help.”

And if there was any positive to take from having been forced to watch from the press box as Williams sealed Game 1 with his overtime game winner, Moore came away, at the very least, with a nuanced scouting report on what the Kings bring to the table as an elite opponent.

“There wasn’t a lot of open ice out there, that’s for sure. They play really strong as a five-man unit. They came as advertised. The ice was hard to come by, the biggest thing with [the Kings] was, without the puck, you’ve got to work to be there, support the puck carrier. That’s certainly something I’m going to work on here,” he said.

But the tactics are secondary. The Stanley Cup finals are all about heart and energy and emotion. And Moore can’t wait to take part.

“I think at this time of year, the X’s and O’s are always important, but you’re playing for the Cup and it’s all coming from inside now. Sitting out and watching the game, it sucks,” Moore said. “You’re motivated. It’s really just a battle of will this time of year. I’m pumped to hopefully get the chance.”