It’s hard to take a lot of positives out of a defeat in the Stanley Cup Final. Now really isn’t the time for moral victories.
While the Rangers couldn’t have executed a more perfect game plan to start Game 1, once Derek Stepan inexplicably handed the Kings their first goal and momentum the Blueshirts game slowly but surely began to regress. Highlighted of course by that disastrous third period in which the Rangers barely resembled an NHL team let alone one that’s playing for hockey’s holy grail.
During his press conference yesterday, Alain Vigneault laid it all out on the line for the Rangers saying they have no chance of winning this series if they’re not at their best…
“One thing that’s real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we’re not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our ‘A’ game. We had Henrik [Lundqvist] who brought his ‘A’ game. We had a couple of guys who I think brought their ‘A’ game [in Game 1], but our ‘B’ game won’t do it. We’re not going to win if we bring our ‘B’ game to the table.”
By my professional calculations, the Rangers brought their ‘A’ game for the first 15 minutes of the game and then not so much.
And while that might concern Blueshirt Nation, it’s actually the exact reason why I feel the Rangers have a tremendous chance of coming back in this series.
In that three quarters of a period, I thought the Rangers completely dominated the Kings. They chipped pucks deep. They were hard on the puck. And they got rubber towards the net. On defense, they were able to keep the Kings to the outside, while not allowing second chance opportunities. Quite frankly, Los Angeles just couldn’t match the Rangers speed.
In those opening minutes, the Blueshirts proved they can hang with a Kings team attempting to win the Cup for the second time in three years.
What’s even more encouraging, is that despite not playing at their peak performance for two plus periods, the Rangers still found themselves in overtime with the Western Conference champs.
Sure, they were outshot by the largest differential in NHL Stanley Cup Final history in the third period and if any other goaltender but Lundqvist was between the pipes the Rangers wouldn’t have sniffed overtime, but yet they still found themselves with an outstanding chance to take a 1-0 lead in the series after 60-minutes.
I’d feel a lot worse about things today if the Rangers gave their optimal effort in Game 1 and still fell short against a Kings team who likely also feels they have more to give.
A staple of this Rangers team all postseason is their ability to bounce back after a tough loss. It happened after the 5-2 loss to the Flyers in Game 6. Which was followed up by their dramatic comeback after they laid a 4-2 egg to the Penguins in Game 4. And finally the brutal 7-4 loss to the Canadiens in Game 5.
As he’s done for the last two months, Vigneault will make the proper adjustments, while team leadership will have these guys ready to go once the puck drops tomorrow night.
It’s never smart to get behind the eight ball with a Game 1 loss, but as Larry Brooks at the New York Post notes, encountering an early deficit in a series isn’t necessarily a death blow either…
“The Blackhawks were down 2-1 to the Bruins last year before winning in six. The Bruins were down 2-0 and 3-2 in 2011 to Alain Vigneault’s Canucks before capturing the Cup with a Game 7 victory in Vancouver. In 2009, the Penguins dropped the first two in Detroit and then trailed 3-2 before taking the series in seven.”
So, while it’s never fun to lose a Stanley Cup Final game, there’s more than enough reasons for Rangers fans to feel confident about their team’s chances going forward.