|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- Take a picture of this.
New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist was sitting motionless in his dressing room stall at Staples Center, slumped over, his head in his hands as perhaps two dozen journalists crowded around him waiting to ask him about another crushing overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
The minutes passed excruciatingly before Lundqvist felt he could address the team's 5-4, double-overtime loss in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, a loss that dropped the Rangers into a 2-0 deficit in a series that already seems out of reach.
Here's another picture.
In the seconds after Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown tipped home a Willie Mitchell point shot just past the midpoint of the second overtime period, there was Lundqvist sitting in his crease, legs splayed in front of him as though paralyzed by disbelief.
A few feet away, center Brad Richards lay on the ice on his stomach as the Kings celebrated down the ice and into their locker room.
Here was a game that needed to be won -- appeared to be won -- and then, somehow, excruciatingly, was lost.
"You have to move on. It's a game. We all battled, I battled and we played five periods. Obviously, the difference is not very big," Lundqvist said when he was finally ready to discuss what had transpired in the sometimes sloppy, but wildly compelling, playoff game.
|Henrik Lundqvist again watched the Kings earn a victory by a narrow margin of error in Game 2.|
"Even the last game, the difference is not big. You just have to stick with it and believe in each other and what we're doing. It's good. It's definitely good enough; it's just one bounce here or there and it's a different score here. We came up short in two games. Now, we have to go back to New York and turn this around."
Let's be clear: This was not Game 1, in which the Rangers opened up a 2-0 lead but then seemed ill prepared for a Kings third-period onslaught as they lost in overtime.
After that game, coach Alain Vigneault called out his players, saying not enough had brought their A-game.
Saturday, the Rangers looked for long stretches like they had all taken the call to arms to heart, and again, they took a 2-0, first-period lead.
The Kings answered with a goal early in the second period, but the Rangers counterpunched with a Martin St. Louis power-play marker to re-establish the two-goal cushion.
Willie Mitchell brought Los Angeles within one again with the Kings' first power-play goal of the series, but Derick Brassard countered 11 seconds later, and again, the Rangers looked as though they had scaled the mountain heading into the third period with a 4-2 lead.
But it was not to be.
The third period was less than two minutes old when Dwight King appeared to block Lundqvist from making a play on a shot that went off King and into the goal to make it 4-3.
Lundqvist was enraged, and the Rangers came unglued, turning the puck over consistently. To no one's surprise, the Kings tied the game on a Marian Gaborik goal after Ryan McDonagh tried to make a cute play, cutting in front of his own net and losing the puck to the Kings' most dangerous shooter.
Although the Rangers rebounded and had a handful of quality scoring chances through overtime, the goal by King was a game-changer and, unless there are hockey miracles awaiting the Rangers in New York, it was a series-changer.
Lundqvist certainly believed the goal was a turning point Saturday night.
"Obviously. We had a two-goal lead, and they get so much life," he said. "That's hockey. One play can change everything. I felt like that play did."
In blowing leads in both games in Los Angeles -- the Kings are the first team in NHL history to win three straight games in which they've trailed by two goals, going back to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals -- the Rangers have reinforced all of the pre-series perceptions that any Eastern Conference representative was going to be cannon fodder in the finals.
And, sure, two overtime losses don't suggest a wide disparity between the two teams, but the manner in which the Rangers lost -- failing to display the killer instinct that the Kings quite obviously possess in spades -- reveals much more than the score.
Chris Kreider had a handful of glorious chances, including a breakaway and a goal post, but couldn't find the back of the net.
Mats Zuccarello had Kings netminder Jonathan Quick down on a wraparound and couldn't get it to go.
The Kings took two minor penalties in the first overtime period, and the Rangers couldn't capitalize.
You can call them bad bounces or talk about being close, but it's not the play of a champion.
"We had some chances, and I really felt like we deserved this win, but it is what it is. You've got to score goals to win hockey games, and they scored one more," Zuccarello said.
"Two tough losses, especially today. Every loss is a tough one, but I feel today we were the better team. And I feel like that's easier to motivate yourself for the next game when you know that you can be better than L.A. We just have to come back to new York and do the job."
But here's the thing: The Kings are up 2-0 in this series and have not played particularly well.
The Kings know that and, given their experience, does it not seem like only a matter of time until we see the game the Kings are capable of playing?
Jarret Stoll said the team is doing things that haven't been part of the Kings' game for the past few years and that needs to change. "Are we playing good or are we not? Right now, we're doing a lot of things that aren't in our game, haven't been in our game for years here. We're getting away with it I think right now," Stoll said.
"Don't get me wrong, we did a lot of good things to come back. Down 2-0, down 4-2. Resiliency to come back and battle and push and pull everybody into it, battle for that tying goal and the winning goal again. It's just how we're playing. We've got to be honest with how we're playing. We know we got more."
That's why this series is so perilously close to becoming a rout.
Indeed, where do the Rangers go from here?
What kind of emotional toll has been taken in failing to take advantage of what has been given to them during these first two games?
Someone asked Rangers forward Brian Boyle about being the underdogs, and he did not take kindly to the query.
"I don't give a s--- about underdogs. That's ridiculous," Boyle said. "Give me a break. We're not. We're here, too. We're a good team. And we can't take any solace [in two close games] because we lost."
"We came here to win games. It doesn't matter how the hell we do it. We have to win the game. If you don't win the game, you didn't do what you came to do, and that's the worst feeling there is."
Take a picture of that.