Rangers' comeback not impossible
Over the years, several teams have rallied back from 2-0 series deficits
NEW YORK -- Just as the 2-0 lead within playoff games has become a curse this spring, the 2-0 series lead has also been something of a burden.
Three of the four opening-round matchups in the Western Conference featured blown 2-0 series leads by the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks. The Sharks even managed the historically improbable feat of blowing a 3-0 series lead against the Stanley Cup-favorite Los Angeles Kings, who hold a 2-0 series lead against the New York Rangers.
The other first-round series in the West also featured an early 2-0 lead by the Anaheim Ducks over the Dallas Stars that evaporated as the Stars bounced back to extend the series to six games before they blew a big lead in Game 6 and were eliminated.
In the second round, the Minnesota Wild, who won their series against the Avalanche in the first round after dropping the first two games, came back to force the Chicago Blackhawks into a six-game set after dropping the first two games on the road. The Kings opened with two straight wins against the Ducks and then lost three in a row before taking a second straight Game 7.
The finals series since the 2004-05 lockout have featured dramatic swings in fortunes as well, with series taking on the look of a rout but ultimately seesawing their way to six- or seven-game sets.
All of this is to say that as much as the Rangers look like a team that has squandered its way to an early exit from the 2014 Stanley Cup finals, having blown a two-goal lead in Game 1 and three two-goal leads in Game 2 before dropping both in overtime, maybe all is not lost.
Here's a look at some of those other series with two-game comebacks, how they changed and what can be learned from them by the Rangers.
Minnesota Wild versus Colorado Avalanche, first round, 2014
This was a homer series, with the visiting team dropping the first six games before the Wild were able to sneak a Game 7 victory at the Pepsi Center when Jared Spurgeon tied the game late and Nino Niederreiter scored early in overtime. The Rangers are 6-4 at home in the playoffs and are riding a two-game win streak at Madison Square Garden.
Chicago Blackhawks versus St. Louis Blues, first round, 2014
The Blackhawks dropped two emotionally charged games in overtime in St. Louis to start the series, but with captain David Backes not himself after a blindside hit courtesy of Brent Seabrook, who was suspended for three games, the Blues could not find enough offense to keep pace. St. Louis was outscored 14-6 while losing four straight and, in the end, did not get the kind of goaltending it needed from Ryan Miller to advance.
Not much chance of the Rangers silencing the Kings, though. They are the runaway leader in offense this spring, averaging 3.52 goals per game. In their last 20 games, the Kings have outscored their opponents 73-49.
Los Angeles Kings versus San Jose Sharks, first round, 2014
Hands up for those who were predicting a Cup win from the Sharks after they jumped out in front of the Kings 3-0 in the first round, pouring 17 goals into the Kings' net. But the Sharks could not get enough quality goaltending, and Sharks coach Todd McLellan went to backup Alex Stalock in place of former Cup winner Antti Niemi for Game 6, which featured a controversial goal call that went in favor of the Kings. McLellan went back to Niemi for Game 7, which ended in a 5-1 Kings blowout. As he was in that series, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick has been up and down all spring.
The key for the Rangers isn't necessarily scoring goals but getting timely ones, as witnessed by their inability to break through in overtime in either Game 1 or 2. They must also learn to get beyond a controversial goal call, as they felt netminder Henrik Lundqvist was interfered with on the Kings' third goal in Game 2 by Dwight King. That's something the Sharks couldn't manage.
Anaheim Ducks versus Los Angeles Kings, second round, 2014
The Kings stole Game 1 on a late tying goal by Marian Gaborik, who also scored the winner in OT as the visiting team won the first four games of this series. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau used three goaltenders while coaxing his team back from a 2-0 deficit, but in the end, Anaheim couldn't close the deal at home, losing Game 7 by a 6-2 count. During the Ducks' three-game winning streak, they used their speed and physicality to disrupt the Kings just as the Rangers have tried to do -- and done successfully for stretches of the first two games.
Montreal Canadiens versus New York Rangers, conference finals, 2014
Let's not forget that the Rangers opened with two big wins in Montreal, outscoring the Habs 10-3 to start the Eastern Conference finals. Carey Price was injured in a collision with Chris Kreider in Game 1 and did not return for the balance of the series. Rookie Dustin Tokarski came in for the Habs, who won Game 3 in overtime and forced a sixth game by winning Game 5 at home 7-4. The Rangers locked things down in Game 6, riding a Dominic Moore goal to a 1-0 win and a trip to their first finals since 1994. Although he was lifted in Game 5, Lundqvist rebounded for the shutout in Game 6.
There are a few similarities between the Rangers and Kings, as Boston lost a pair of close games in Vancouver to start the 2011 finals and felt as though it would simply never gain a foothold in the series. But after Nathan Horton was felled by a blindside hit from Aaron Rome, the Bruins rallied to crush the Canucks in Games 3 and 4. They did drop another close one in Game 5 but came back to win the final two games of the series, including Game 7 on the road. Quick isn't as emotionally fragile as Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo was at that time, but as noted, he has shown he's more vulnerable than he was in 2012.
Chicago Blackhawks versus Philadelphia Flyers, Stanley Cup finals, 2010
The Flyers looked like a beaten team after they dropped two one-goal games to start this series, the first 6-5, which foreshadowed the uneven goaltending that would dominate the 2010 finals for both teams. But the Flyers took advantage of their home ice to even up the series. Claude Giroux scored in overtime in Game 3 to avoid going down 3-0 in the series, and the Flyers opened up a 3-1 first-period lead in Game 4 and went on to win 5-3 to reduce the finals to a best-of-three. The Blackhawks would win the final two games of the series, crushing Philadelphia 7-4 at home in Game 5 and using Patrick Kane's overtime heroics on the road in Game 6 to give Chicago its first championship since 1961.
Justin Williams, the gifted big-game winger for the Kings, was part of this Carolina team's run to its first and only Cup championship. But it wasn't easy. The Hurricanes got a late goal from Rod Brind'Amour after Oilers starter Dwayne Roloson was injured. The Hurricanes jumped out to a 2-0 and then 3-1 series lead, but the Oilers, led by Hall of Fame-bound defenseman Chris Pronger (who was also part of the Flyers' 2010 run to the finals), forced a seventh game by winning Game 5 on the road in overtime and dominating Game 6 in Edmonton. They would lose Game 7 in Carolina with Williams scoring the empty-net goal that would close out a 3-1 victory. The Oilers were able to get back in this series in part because their power play started to click after being inefficient at the start of the series. Although the Rangers did get a power-play goal in Game 2, their failure to take advantage of a full and a partial power play in overtime in Game 2 plus three chances with the man advantage in Game 1 is a major failing.
This is the series that could be a touchstone for the Rangers. The Penguins and Red Wings were facing each other for the second straight year in the finals, and Detroit took advantage of home ice to win the first two games by identical 3-1 scores. The Penguins, who had also dropped the first two games of their second-round series against the Washington Capitals on the road, returned home and evened the series with a pair of 4-2 victories. Marc-Andre Fleury was solid for the Penguins, who were outshot in both games. The Wings crushed the Penguins 5-0 in Game 5. In spite of what could have been a soul-sucking loss, the Pens bounced back with a 2-1 win, setting the stage for a dramatic Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, where Max Talbot scored both goals in a 2-1 win that featured a dramatic save by Fleury in the final seconds of regulation to deny Nicklas Lidstrom a trying goal.
If there is hope for the Rangers from this series, it's that Lundqvist has those kinds of heroics in him in his first Stanley Cup finals. He was devastated after the Game 2 loss, so it will be interesting to see how he rebounds for a must-win session in Game 3 on Monday night. The other factor in this 2009 series was the play of the Penguins' centers, especially Jordan Staal and Talbot, who provided key performances late. The Rangers need more from their pivots if they are going to get back in this current series.