Top Shelf: Kings push unlucky Rangers to the brink

 

The Sports Network

New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - If the so-called "Hockey Gods" actually exist, they must not be fans of the New York Rangers.

In the first Stanley Cup Finals game at Madison Square Garden in two decades, the hometown Rangers did not get the slightest bit of help from up above. The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, made the most of their "puck luck" and are now just one win away from landing their second Cup title in three seasons.

To be sure, the Kings are more than capable of making their own breaks. But Monday evening in the Big Apple, the club seemed to have an angel over their shoulder helping them to a 3-0 victory in Game 3 and a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

Los Angeles scored two of its three goals on pucks that clipped Rangers players before beating a hapless Henrik Lundqvist. Another marker came when Mike Richards' attempted pass on a 2-on-1 was blocked by New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh before kicking right back to the Kings forward for an easy score.

Before Richards tallied to make it 3-0, however, Jeff Carter scored with only eight-tenths of a second remaining in the first period to serve as an ominous sign for the Rangers. Dan Girardi laid out to block Carter's wrist shot from the right circle but the puck ricocheted off the defenseman's skate before beating Lundqvist.

"I'm just laying down and the puck got passed over and it just nicks off my blade," said Girardi. "That's exactly how the series is going for us right now, a couple bad bounces."

Jonathan Quick also joined in on the act for the Kings, making an amazing stick save on Derick Brassard from in close to keep it a 2-0 game. Brassard gazed at the upper reaches of the Garden in disbelief, but there was nobody up above to feel his pain.

Now, we shouldn't all get together and have a pity party for the Rangers. After blowing two-goal leads en route to losing both Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, it's pretty clear the Kings have earned their sizable advantage in this series. New York also has failed to help itself on the man advantage, scoring just one goal on 14 power-play opportunities in this series.

Still, if L.A. comes out and wins Game 4 on Wednesday and ends this in a sweep, the 2014 Cup Finals will go down in history as a rout. The Rangers have by no means done enough to win this series, but they deserve a better fate than that.

"We are not sure why it's happening," Girardi said of his team's string of bad luck. "But we have to keep working ourselves and work hard and the bounces will come our way."

At times, the Rangers have shown themselves more than capable of matching up with the heavily-favored Kings. Although New York has used its tremendous speed to generate chances, New York didn't convert on enough of those opportunities to finish off L.A. in either of the first two games.

In Monday's Game 3 battle, a heavy shot advantage (32-15) didn't get the Rangers the result they so desperately needed. If you don't trust plain old shot differential, New York also won the Corsi battle with a 59-33 edge in shot attempts.

"We tried to continue with our speed and had a lot of shots, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't put it in," McDonagh reasoned.

The Kings were installed as the prohibitive favorites in this series not only because the club is largely the same team that lifted the Cup in 2012, but also because they were champions of the dominant Western Conference. Months ago it seemed extremely likely the 2014 champs would come from out West, but the Rangers have by no means shamed their conference, even if they go down in 4-0 fashion.

New York's speed has caused some problems for the Kings, but Alain Vigneault's club has yet to play a full 60 minutes at the pace needed to beat a team as resilient as L.A. If the Rangers have any chance of still making this a series -- let alone come back to win it -- they need to consistently put Los Angeles on its heels. At this stage, it seems unlikely New York can do enough to rally against a team as well coached and deep as the Kings.

Four teams in NHL history have come back from down 3-0 to win a series. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Kings were the last to do it when they stormed back to shock the San Jose Sharks in the opening round this spring. It would definitely make for one heck of a story if New York gave L.A. a taste of its own medicine here in the Cup Finals, but obviously the odds of that happening are nothing short of astronomical.

Of course, like every other team which finds itself in 3-0 hole, the Rangers are saying they'll take it one game at a time and see where it takes them. When the Kings beat the Sharks in the first round they were saying the same thing. New York also went down a similar road when it overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat Pittsburgh last month in Round 2.

"We've been down 3-1 and were able to come back, but even when were down in that Pittsburgh series we took it one game at a time, and I think that's the biggest thing," said Rangers forward Rick Nash.

At this point for the Rangers, there really is nothing else to say.

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