- Scott Burnside, NHL
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NEW YORK -- Humbling? Oh, this suddenly lopsided rout of a Stanley Cup finals has been that and more for the New York Rangers.
Even though the Rangers suffered two gut-wrenching overtime losses in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, there was a feeling that they had enough left in the tank, enough character and resolve to hold serve at Madison Square Garden to make this a series. Certainly, that was the brave talk leading up to Game 3 Monday night.
But as the Los Angeles Kings calmly and meticulously carved themselves a 3-0 victory out of the tattered remains of the Rangers' Stanley Cup dreams, it was revealed as just that, so much talk. In a game that should have seen a Rangers team at its desperate best, New York did not have nearly enough players deliver the walk to match the talk.
The Rangers' power play went dry on six attempts and is now 1-for-14 in the series. Brad Richards continued to struggle. Rick Nash continued to make plays but still has just three goals through 23 postseason games, and head coach Alain Vigneault uses him only rarely on the power play. The production from the Rangers' blue line doesn't compare to the nightly contributions the Kings are getting from their blue-line corps.
On this night, the Kings managed just 15 shots but somehow managed to come up with more than enough offense to close to within one win of their second Stanley Cup title in three years.
"Like I said a couple of times tonight, it's a frustrating loss. There's not a lot of words out there to describe. I feel like we're a good team," said Mats Zuccarello, who was again the Rangers' best forward.
"It's tough to talk about it right now," he added, perhaps thinking about his own glorious chance to put one past Kings netminder Jonathan Quick in the first period with the game still scoreless. But Zuccarello, standing at the side of the net, couldn't find the handle on a rebound that came to him, and a diving Quick got a paddle on his attempt and the puck skittered away.
Someone noted that earlier this spring the Rangers won five in a row, including three straight against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round after falling behind 3-1 in that series.
"We've done it before. It's been done before. Harder things have been achieved than that," Zuccarello said. "It's going to be tough. But we can't go out playing Game 4 thinking we've lost the Stanley Cup final; we've got to believe. And we've got to keep playing the same way and get some goals. I think everyone in here is working their asses off for the team.
"But we didn't have the right bounces today and, like I said, it's really tough right now because you feel like you played a good game but it really doesn't matter when you lose hockey games."
Three games into this series, it simply seems as though whatever the Rangers do will not be enough and the Kings are good enough to take exactly what is given to them and turn it into glory. That's what happens with a team that has the pedigree the Kings have. Even a modest number of mistakes can be two or three too many.
Like the goal by Jeff Carter with 0.7 seconds left in the first period that gave the Kings their first regulation lead in their previous four playoff games, dating back to Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. The Rangers were just coming off a late-period power play that generated a number of good chances. Then back at full strength in the final minute, Carter's shot nicked snakebitten Dan Girardi's skate as he slid to try to block the shot, and the redirected disc glanced off netminder Henrik Lundqvist's glove and into the net with less than a second remaining in the opening frame.
Bad luck? Maybe.
But Carter, one of the sharpest shooters in the playoffs with 10 goals, was curiously given too much space as the other Rangers defenders converged on the passer, Justin Williams. And why was Lundqvist so deep in his net at that point in the period? If he's a little less deep, maybe the puck strikes his glove more fully even with the deflection.
Early in the second period, when the Rangers should have been especially desperate to answer the Carter goal, first Ryan McDonagh and then Marc Staal took high-sticking penalties in the first 3:18, and Jake Muzzin blasted a shot that seemed to bounce off someone or something in front of a screened Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead midway through the Staal penalty.
Before the second period was complete, Girardi -- and how forgettable has his series been, dating back to his overtime flub in Game 1 that led to Williams' game winner that altered the early complexion of the finals? -- was caught deep in the Kings' zone, and Mike Richards' attempted pass on a 2-on-1 with Trevor Lewis glanced off McDonagh's leg and came back to Richards, who scored the final goal.
In the crowded Rangers locker room, there was much brave talk about belief and focus and the relationships forged through a long spring of ups and downs. But, having heard similar words leading up to Game 3, we know the value of talk, do we not? So do the Rangers.
"Well, you try to stay positive right now but it's tough. It's really tough," Lundqvist said. "We are doing a lot of good things but you look at the goals and we put two in our own net and then just a tough play on the third one. At some point you are going to need some puck luck and we don't have any right now. It feels like they have all of it."
In the history of the best-of-seven series, only one of 26 teams to fall behind 3-0 has rebounded to win a championship, and that was in 1942. The Rangers, of course, had not played a Stanley Cup finals game at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 of the 1994 final they won.
Former NHL netminder Glenn Healy was with the Rangers on that night. The national broadcast analyst believes the die was cast for this series in Los Angeles, when the Rangers couldn't take advantage of the Kings' ofttimes sloppy play and a few moments of ordinariness from Quick. Now Quick is dialed in, and the Kings played their most defensively sound game since the middle of the Western Conference finals.
"You look at the two first games, really, they should have been up 2-0. They let it slip away. I think we showed Britney Spears in the crowd in Game 2 and I said, 'Oops, we did it again,'" Healy told ESPN.com Monday. "Probably tonight with those two saves Quick made with the paddle of his stick (the second was on Derick Brassard in the second period), it should have been a different fate. But shoulda, woulda, coulda. They're down 3-0, they've got to find a way to get their power play going and find a way to have their game-breaker not just be their goalie."
And then, appropriately, the longtime netminder mentioned something about the sands of time slipping through the Rangers' fingers.