Sunday, February 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Stanley Cup party is over for Rangers

NEW YORK — What a king-sized bummer.

Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena, was revved up and ready for a party Monday night. The first Stanley Cup final game here in 20 years was to be the setting for the first victory in this final for the Rangers.

Mark Messier, the captain and star of the 1994 Cup-champion Rangers, was there. So was Robert De Niro. Jimmy Fallon, too. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston was shown on the scoreboard, looking every bit as creepy as Walter White while firing up fans who, truth be known, were already about as fired up as they could be.

A win Monday — which was pretty much a given, as far as the 18,000 wearing Rangers gear were concerned — and badda bing, the New Yorkers were right back in the series.

Instead, this series is pretty much over.

"Tough, really tough," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.

The real stars of the night — those wearing the white sweaters of the Los Angeles Kings — decided to spoil the fun. With an easy-at-it-sounds 3-0 victory, and a commanding 3-zip lead in this best-of-seven final, the Kings not only are about to finish off the Rangers, they are the on the verge of what passes for a dynasty these days in the NHL.

Los Angeles, California. Center of the hockey universe. I'll give you a second to wrap your brain around that.

The Kings are one victory away from claiming their second Stanley Cup in three years, and given their roster full of talented and not-too-old veterans, the engraver of the Stanley Cup might soon find his job somewhat monotonous.

These aren't your father's Kings, best known for Wayne Gretzky's splashy arrival and Barry Melrose's slicked-back hair. This team isn't quite as glamorous. All it is is a relentless, grinding, methodical machine that never stops.

The Kings were down 0-3 in the first round to the Sharks and rallied to become the fourth NHL team to come back from such a deficit. They were down 3-2 in the next series to the Ducks and won. They knocked off the defending champion Blackhawks in the next series by winning Game 7 in Chicago.

And they were up 2-0 in this series going into Monday despite not leading at any point in those two games. They rallied from two-goal deficits in each of the first two games and took the lead only when they scored in overtime of Game 1 and the second overtime of Game 2.

So why should we be at all surprised that they acted Monday like they were cops pounding on the doors of Madison Square Garden, telling everyone inside to keep the noise down?

They scored in the final second of the first period and added two goals in the second — one that deflected off the glove of Rangers and former Lightning star Marty St. Louis.

Party over.

Goalie Jonathan Quick, who grew up a huge Rangers fan in Milford, Conn., made sure the Rangers could not come back the way the Kings did in the first two games. He was sensational.

"You just make one save at a time and you try and get ready for the next one. That's all," Quick said.

The Kings were outshot 32-15, but not one puck found its way past Quick. And this wasn't your ho-hum, 32-easy-save night. Several times Quick flat-out robbed the Rangers with saves so good that you had to watch a slow-motion replay to see exactly how he did it.

From the paddle of his stick to the toe of his skate blade, Quick used every inch of his equipment to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard. They were the type of saves that not only keep the other team off the board, but the kind that snuffs out any hope the other team might have. They are the type of saves that breaks wills.

"His best game of the series," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty went one step further: "I think that was his best game (of the playoffs). He made some saves he had no business making. … Everything about his game was great."

Quick has been rocky at times in this postseason, but he has saved his moments for the most critical times. All of Monday's game was critical. A Rangers victory and there was hope for them. But Quick was a wall, and if he is in lock-down mode, then Wednesday's Game 4 will be the last of the season.

"He was the best player on the ice tonight," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.

Of course, over the next day, you'll hear all the cliches about anything is possible, how teams can come back from a 3-0 hole in the playoffs, how winning the fourth game of a series is the toughest, how it's not over until it's over.

Game 3 was barely over when Lundqvist started the chatter with, "It's not over. We are looking at getting the next game. That's all we think about right now is that win."

Sounds good, but let's face it: The party seems over.

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