Better When We Have the Puck

The LA Kings won’t put forth a better effort Friday night than they did two evenings before in losing Game Four to the New York Rangers. That’s not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. LA played an excellent game in all respects despite the loss.

And it wasn’t that the Rangers played better in beating them. In fact, they tempted fate, and the hockey gods, a number of times, as has been well documented in video replays of the two pucks which made it to the goal line and no farther. Friends in LA who are following hockey but not big fans asked me yesterday, “What about the break the plane of the goal line rule?” There is no such rule in hockey. The puck has to go all the way across the line. But you already knew that.

So what might happen? The Kings will pour on the speed and get all the chances, and they’ll see the puck go in instead of not. They’ll win 5-2. It won’t even take a five-minute major like it did against New Jersey on the hit that flattened Rob Scuderi and ensured that the Kings had all the time they needed to put the game out of reach in the early going.

Alternately, the Kings will be too tight to play like series-enders, gripping their sticks in response to the screams of their fans and missing chances that in more relaxed circumstances they would bury. That’s perhaps a fate reserved for the less-cool-handed players, so don’t count on Justin Williams or Jeff Carter muffing a chance if it’s right there for him. All Williams has to believe is that this is game 7, where he shines, rather than game 5.

Most experts have been saying that LA is too experienced, given what they’ve done in the past three years, to blow another chance to put a team away. But they were exactly this experienced two weeks ago when they let the Chicago Blackhawks off the mat and lost games five and six to end up going to Chicago and ultimately winning in OT.

The demeanor of the Hawks, and I saw it live, on their faces, in their dressing room, was dour after game four. They really thought they were going home to lose the series in five. Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith both were downcast, their answers trailing off into mumbles as they tried to explain why the Kings were getting to them. Now, they’re a much more experienced and successful team than the Rangers are, so they were much more likely to martial a comeback than the Rangers are, but at the same time, you can’t discount that the Kings, in response, did not get it done.

Who’s to say they will this time, either?

The Rangers are 11-2 in their last 13 postseason games when facing elimination, which sounds like a pretty good record until you ask yourself why they get into that “facing elimination” situation so often at all. They play from behind in series, obviously. The Kings play from behind in games, at least this playoff year. Does this somehow offset?

The Kings have won 16 of their last 21 playoff games, including five of the most recent six, dating back to June 11, 2012, which was the day they clinched versus the Devils. Fans hope that it’s 6 of 7 and 17 of 22, obviously, and the arena is already surrounded by anxious watchers, many of whom have tickets and some of whom, probably are around just for the fun.

Alain Vigneault spoke to the media on Friday afternoon at around 2:45 local time ahead of the 5pm start, and said, “It’s a good day, I’m sure it’ll work out fine.” He also said that his team was good for 30 minutes, that for the group, “We had no choice. We had to find a way to win, and we did.”

He said that “I feel that we need to focus on tonight. We know that we can play better than we did last night, and we can. We need to put our best game on the ice tonight.”

When pressed for details, he said that in the third, “We were defending, because we didn’t have the puck. We’re going to try to have the puck tonight. We’ll be in the other team’s end more tonight. We’re a better team when we have the puck.”

It was short and sweet but showed him to be confident and focused. Maybe the series won’t be done as fasat as some people think that it will.

Notes

Teams facing 3-0 series deficit in the Finals have lost in 4 games 20 times, in 5 3 times, and in 6 or 7 once. One team has won. The Maple Leafs.

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