NEW YORK – Now or never.
This is it for the New York Rangers. They trail the Stanley Cup Final 2-games-to-none against the powerhouse Los Angeles Kings.
They were good enough to win Game 2. Arguably, good enough to win Game 1. A bounce here, a bounce there. A whistle here, a whistle there. They’re close. Very close.
But close doesn’t count in the Stanley Cup Final. It’s been bottom-line time for seven weeks. And the bottom line is this: A loss tonight in Game 3 at what should be a raucous Madison Square Garden, and the Cup will be in the building for Game 4, polished and ready for a celebration the Rangers don’t want.
It’s not quite a must-win game for the Rangers. That doesn’t come until they’re one loss from elimination. But they’re close. Too close for comfort.
“[Today] is about as close as a ‘must’ game as I think you can have,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Sunday. Until you face elimination, that’s as close as we can get. There are a lot of good things we’re doing on the ice. There are a couple things we need to clean up that we’re going to address tomorrow with our group.For the most part we’ve given ourselves a real good chance, and that’s what we’re going to try to do [tonight].”
“We need to be ready every shift to compete and make every little play,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, whose turnover in overtime of Game 1 directly led to the game-winning goal. “Obviously, a couple times the little plays hurt us. We’ve had the lead a majority of the two games, we’re obviously doing something right.”
“We can play better,” said forward Brian Boyle. “We’ve had chances to win. We need to play better. You can get away playing pretty good and winning sometimes, but not now.”
When this series began, the Rangers were considered massive underdogs to unseat the Western Conference champions. They haven’t played like underdogs, though. They’ve played like they belong.
“No, we just played hard. We played Rangers hockey,” said Carl Hagelin when asked about his team’s underdog status. “It doesn’t matter what other people think, we’re a confident group here, we show a lot of character. The only thing that matters is what we think in this locker room.”
“Chance-wise we’re right there with them,” said Vigneault. “We played some good hockey. We got a little bit unfortunate in that last third period [of Game 2]. But, you know, we’re right there. We feel real good about our game. Going to be a great night to be hockey fans tonight.”
It’s now or never. If it’s now, this series gets awfully interesting. If it’s never …
“We have to hold serve, and we know that,” said Vigneault. “But we know our game and we know the way to play. When we do that, we’re a good team.”
“It’s a fun opportunity,” Boyle said. “It’s not very much fun when you lose, though. I already knew that.”
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: