It’s a 3-2 League Alright

The LA Kings were going to win this Stanley Cup, whether it was Friday night or Monday, or even Wednesday. In fact, their penchant for anti-poetry might well have had them go seven games. Heck, why not blow a 3-0 lead after coming back from a 3-0 deficit in their first series?

But Alex Martinez made sure that wouldn’t happen by scoring a good goal, not a bounce, fluke, or mistake, to end Friday’s game five nearly three-quarters of the way through the second OT period.

The play began the way so many have for the Kings of late, with a weak attempt to clear the puck out of their zone. This time it was by Matt Greene, but it could have been any of the defensemen, save perhaps Doughty, because all night long, and all series, in fact, one flaw in an otherwise sturdy backline has been soft clears. They’ve gone to the hashmarks to skaters who weren’t skating. They’ve been intercepted mid-zone. Anyway, this puck was not put up firmly enough, and Martinez decided that he had to do it himself, so after having played on about 19 minutes of hockey, compared to 41 for Doughty and more than 35 for each of Mitchell and Muzzin, he skated it into the New York zone.

There he passed it to Clifford, who dished it to Toffoli. He took a shot and Martinez slammed in the rebound.

Henrik Lundqvist stayed down on the ice for a long time. A long, long time. And why not? His playoff run was over, his magical inspired-by-the-mom of St. Louis success now a dismal, sinking failure. He had certainly done his part. He’d faced 51 shots, stopped 48 of them. On the other side, Quick had taken 30 against, stopping 28. What else could the Rangers’ goalie do but lie there hoping it hadn’t happened, then get up, skate over, and shake hands in the line with the rest of his vanquished teammates?

Their coach did the best he could to spin it to the good after, saying that there wasn’t much more his team could do. They’d taken the Kings to OT three times in LA, after all. He said that he thought his squad had played their best in OT, and indeed, they had. The first OT saw them get ten shots, their highest for any frame. In the third period, they had had just three. The Kings, by contrast, were steady all along. The began with 7, then went 10-12-13-9 over the next four periods up to sudden death at 14:43 of period 5, OT 2.

The Rangers’ low third-period total, if that looks odd, was due to their playing defense, protecting a 2-1 lead. They pulled ahead that way shorthanded with 30 seconds left in the second period. They had initially staked LA to a 1-0 lead in period one then caught it up at 15:37 of the second and took the lead as indicated.

The third saw the Kings with a power play that netted them a 2-2- tie, coming just shy of eight minutes. The Rangers then didn’t do much except for one great chance by Brian Boyle, who fired a turn-around wrister while falling. Quick made a great leg save.

Great saves would be the theme of the night from that point forward. Each goalie was outstanding, a highlight reel come to life. The offensive players contributed as well, taking the puck down the ice and back with no sign of tired legs. Martinez put the puck to the front of the net, Williams redirected it, and Lundqvist made a leg save. Dominic Moore went across the slot with St. Louis and they got off a shot. Dustin Brown took the puck down ice with the Kings shorthanded and kept it, though Kopitar was with him. He shot high. It just went on and on.

Vigneault said, “Both goaltenders were outstanding,” and he wasn’t wrong. “Both teams were battling at an unreal level,” he added, also true.

Funny that in the end, the magic that the Kings had won on, the Carter-plus-kids “70s” line, and Gaborik, were only minimally represented in the winning goal, Toffoli getting one assist. But goal two, the tying one, was Gaborik from Doughty and Jeff Carter, and Williams scored their first with King and Stoll assisting. Looking at that variety of names, it was apparent that the team has depth in its scoring. Most of the offensive superstars in the playoffs, in fact, play for the Kings, though when you figure that the team played about one-third of a regular season in the playoffs, having guys with mid-20s point totals isn’t all that odd.

The Kings will now enjoy a summer of festivities, though hopefully get some rest. Sutter after the game pointed out the following: “Tonight is their 26th game. Is it 26? I’m not so sure that will ever happen again. You talk about 26 games plus how many overtimes? We probably played close to 30 games since the 20th of April. That’s pretty significant.”

Justin Williams pointed to the grind of the games, the “backs against the wall” nature of the Kings’ run this year. “Obviously every Stanley Cup is unique in its own way,” he said, “But we really had to earn this one.” He added about the team’s strength, “We were able to channel our inner will. We just didn’t want to go away,” speaking to a question about being down by three games to none against San Jose.

He played over 26 minutes. Other forwards with notable time included Kopitar with 30, Carter with 29, and Brown and Gaborik with about 25 each. The man way on the low end was Clifford, whose energy helped set up the winning goal, so it seems that everything Sutter did, worked.

What’s surprising is that New York matched the Kings hit for hit, with 42 to LA’s 44, and that they held the puck very well, giving it away 15 times to LA’s 25. The faceoffs were about even, with just four guys, the centers, taking them for LA. Carter was the weakest, at 35%.

But you want to know more about that game action, right? Well, the Kings might well have been packing for New York when a puck was deflected by Doughty, beat Quick cleanly, and rang off the post.

Greene failed on a clear and saw St. Louis test Quick with a shot that he got a leg on.

The Kings got King in close and a puck coming to the net. He tipped it and forced a save and then got the rebound to push Lundqvist to make another.

Several times in the two OT periods, huge scrambles happened in front of the nets, with the puck disappearing and the referee straining over the back of the net to see what had happened.

The game, finally, was on Nash’s stick with about ten minutes remaining. The puck came to him on the right side of the net and he fired towards the empty cage. Voynov got his stick shaft in the way and saved a goal, redirecting the puck up and over the long side past Quick, who was sprawled to make the previous save. He would have had no chance had Voynov not been there.

Just after that, Moore stripped the puck from Doughty and put it to the pointman, who sent it over to St. Louis, who fell as it got to him looking for a one-timer. He had the side of the net open.

The Kings then had two good chances of their own, Kopitar taking it around the net and dishing it out to Doughty for a leg save by Lundqvist and then the puck coming out of the corner to Williams, who shot high and wide. One more even: Carter kep the puck in right side and sent it to Lewis, who was in mid-slot and took a sweeping shot that Lundqvist stopped.

Looking back on this series in future years, it will seem like a bit of a walkover, the Rangers having the easy time of letting Montreal clear Boston out of their way, then beating Montreal easily to advance to the Final. That three of the five games went to OT, two to double OT, and that the games were such a shooting gallery and so close in every way, won’t show in the distantly viewed numbers. It’s too bad, though Kings fans will always be ready and willing to set straight those who remember amiss. These were incredible games, tense, go-either-way affairs.

The Kings are the better team, but they’re not without their flaws. The still didn’t move the puck out of their defensive zone well, and they were often stymied by New York’s forecheck. The Rangers had a lot more offensive prowess than their sometimes meager shot totals would indicate. And the shot total was low in part because the Kings were collapsing and giving up their bodies for blocks. They had more than half again the number of blocks the Rangers had, 25-16, so if even half of that differential goes to the net, things look much tighter on the numbers side than what they did. The low score is, in fact, an indication of each team’s commitment to win.

Sutter said one evening somewhere in the middle of a season–this or last, who remembers?–that it’s a 3-2 league. Little did he know that he was predicting the outcome that would win him Stanley Cup number two.

Notes
Justin Williams now has three Stanley Cup wins. He added the Conn Smythe trophy to his list of hardware also.

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