Rangers gear up for Game 3 against Kings in Big Apple
Rangers forward Rick Nash hits defenceman Jake Muzzin of the Kings during Game 2 on Saturday night in Los Angeles. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
California Chrome had barely crossed the Belmont Park finish line in Triple Crown disappointment on Saturday night when the demands of the notoriously tough New York sports fans switched gears.
A hearty “Let’s Go Rangers” chant broke out. Guess who is on the clock now?
It’s been 20 years since a hockey game this important has been played in Manhattan, two decades since the Broadway Blueshirts last captured the Stanley Cup. Madison Square Garden has been renovated, Mark Messier is long-since retired but hockey can still captivate this energetic city.
On Sunday afternoon, there was a buzz around the Garden which is draped in a massive Rangers coloured banner hyping the next two dates with the Los Angeles Kings. By puck drop in Monday’s crucial Game 3, they’ll be the talk of the town.
“I think we’re pretty confident to come back here and pretty excited to play in front of our own fans,” Rangers forward Derrick Brassard said as his team returned home from the disappointing back-to-back overtime losses in Los Angeles. “Our confidence is still there. I think if we keep playing the same way, we have a great chance to win.”
Well, yes and no.
The Rangers could certainly use a clutch goal here and there and probably some of the closer to clutch goaltending that Henrik Lund-qvist delivered earlier in the post-season. And perhaps most of all, they need to develop a killer instinct in front of their home crowd.
Blowing two-goal leads in Los Angeles was tantalizing in that it proved they could play with the Cup favourites. But, ultimately, the losses had their crushing side as well as opportunity slipped away.
Remember, this in a Rangers team that was booed off the ice early in its second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a matchup they eventually came back from a 3-1 deficit to win. That seems like long ago, however, and the home crowed figures to be in a frenzy for games Monday and Wednesday.
“We proved to ourselves we can come back against some really good teams,” Brassard said. “I think we showed to ourselves we can play with this games. In both games, they win in overtime. It could go either way.
“Obviously we wanted to go there and steal at least one game. But we never quit all season. We showed some character.”
Remember this was a team that started the regular season with just three wins in its first 10 games and took some time coming around to the ways of coach Alain Vigneault.
The comeback series win over the Penguins was followed by domination over the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final.
“It’s the biggest game New York has had here in 20 years and I think our fans are as excited as we are,” Vigneault said. “People might be disappointed that we’re down by two, but it wasn’t certainly by lack of effort.
“We played nine periods of hockey and we played some real solid hockey in there. We’re against a real good team. We know the challenge. We need to hold serve and take care of our business.”
There’s a reason the Kings were heavily favoured coming into the series, of course. They survived the Western Conference beating three Cup contenders to do so. The Rangers, meanwhile, got by a so-so Flyers squad, took advantage of a Penguins team in the midst of implosion and easily handled a Canadiens group that may be a year or two away from contending.
While they showed a lot in Games 1 and 2, they now find-themselves in what Vigneault said on Sunday is the closest thing you can have to a must-win game.
“We never quit all season,” Brassard said. “We always showed some character. I don’t think it’s going to be any different for this series. We showed to ourselves that we can play with those guys that we can beat those guys.”
Well, not quite. And what promises to be a big Monday night in Manhattan would be a good place to start.
RANGERS CAN’T FORGET NON-CALL
Was it bad luck or bad officiating that conspired against the Rangers in their 5-4 double-overtime loss on Saturday night?
If you are New York coach Alain Vigneault, it might have been a bit of both.
It’s clear that Vigneault hasn’t let go of Dwight King’s controversial goal early in the third period that looked and smelled like goaltender interference and started the Kings’ comeback.
“I know they came back from a two-goal deficit, but their third goal you can look at it any way you want,” Vigneault said on Sunday. “At the end of the day, that shouldn’t have been a goal in my opinion.
“They got three chances in the third, if you count that one. Two of them went in. We were a little bit unlucky.”
As you might expect, King wasn’t apologizing on Sunday.
“My main focus was trying to get to the front of the net,” the 230-pound King said. “When the shot came, the ref made the call and that’s the way it stood. You need to get traffic, make it hard on them to see pucks, to stop pucks. That will never change.”