Way back in 1927, actress Clara Bow became known as “The It Girl” after she starred in the movie “It” which became a huge international hit. “It” was tough to define, but Elenor Glynn, who wrote the screenplay, said “It” was “that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With ‘It’ you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. ‘It’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.”
Well, right now, the Los Angeles Kings have “It” and the New York Rangers don’t.
In hockey terms, “It” is a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. A team that has “it” plays a smart game and gets favorable bounces because they create situations that allow good things to happen. They are confident and self assured. They don’t panic. Everybody knows their role and plays it. At different times, different players step up and create wins.
The Kings continued to play disciplined and smart hockey in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden and the Rangers had no answers in response.
The Kings continually clogged up the neutral zone and quickly cleared the puck out of their own zone each time the Rangers managed to dump it in. In short, Los Angeles played a smart and efficient game that prevented the Rangers from establishing much of anything offensively.
Sure, the goals Los Angeles scored went in off the skates and bodies of Rangers defensemen, but anybody who watched this game knew that the Kings created those bounces and opportunities and dominated play for most of the game.
The statistics from Game 3 were deceiving: the Rangers outshot the Kings 32-15, but New York could not generate many quality scoring chances. The visitors kept the home team away from their goal and prevented them from getting rebounds and deflections. The Rangers had plenty of shots on goal, but precious few quality scoring chances.
Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick was rarely tested but came up big on the few occasions the Rangers did have quality chances like Chris Kreider’s partial breakaway in the opening seconds of the third period or a pair of chances in close by Mats Zuccarello which he was unable to convert.
After the game, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault called Quick “the best player on the ice” in Game 3, but really, while Quick was very good, he only had to be great intermittently. The Kings defense shut down the Rangers attack.
The Kings did what they had to do to get a road win. They played an even first period and then scored the first goal of the game with 0.7 seconds left before intermission. That goal left both the Rangers and the crowd stunned.
The puck went in off the skate of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. “It’s just kind of the way it’s been going,” Girardi said. “The thing just nicks the steel of my skate. I’m just trying to take away a passing lane, I know there’s only a second left…it hits my steel and goes in. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
The Rangers took two penalties in the first 3:18 of the second period and the Kings cashed in on the second one when Jake Muzzin scored on a shot from the point at the 4:16 mark. That goal took the crowd out of the game. The fans at Madison Square Garden, who had waited 20 years to attend a Stanley Cup Final game at their home arena, now waited for their team to give them something to cheer about. They never did.
Mike Richards closed out the scoring with 2:46 left in the period when the puck came back to him after a blocked shot. Still, Richards cashed in a 2-0n-1 break set up by another defensive breakdown by the Rangers and by the patience and persistence of the Kings.
In short, by the end of the second period, the Rangers were pressing to make something happen while the Kings, who possess “it”, were supremely confident that if they kept doing what they were doing, their hard work would pay off and something good would eventually happen. They were right.
The Rangers power play continued to struggle as they went 0-for-6 with the man-advantage in Game 3. The Rangers players weren’t moving enough without the puck when they had the extra attacker and they failed to get much traffic in front of Quick. The Kings goalie saw nearly all of the shots the Rangers took and he stopped them all.
“We had a lot of power play opportunities but we didn’t give ourselves [quality]chances,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh explained. “We had a shot or two at a time. It’s the third and fourth ones that we say are going to be the goals. We didn’t give ourselves enough of those opportunities.”
By the end of the game, the Rangers were not just beaten, but demoralized as they contemplated the 3-0 hole they find themselves in.
“Bad bounces are part of the game but the situations and decision making with the puck, we’ve got to do better,” McDonagh added.
The Rangers are searching for answers but they don’t have them right now. Game 3 was by far the worst contest of the series for the Rangers who never seemed to be a serious threat to mount a comeback once they fell behind 2-0. When they needed to reach for that extra gear, it simply wasn’t there.
The Rangers are trying to rediscover “it.” They were greater than the sum of their parts when they won the final three games against the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins. They rode that momentum and built on “it” in the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens.
But the Kings are better than any team the Rangers have faced in the playoffs this year. The Flyers could be physical, the Penguins were skilled and the Canadiens fundamentally sound, but the Kings are all three and they have taken over the series and caused the Rangers to have some self doubt.
“Well, you try to stay positive right now, but it’s tough, it’s really tough,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist admitted. “At some point, you are going to need some puck luck and we just don’t have any right now. It feels like they have all of it…It doesn’t matter what you think you deserve out there, you just have to find ways to win games, and that’s what they have been doing…At the end, it’s about finding ways to win, and we haven’t done that.”
The Rangers have no more margin for error. They have to win Game 4 at home to extend the series and keep their season alive. They have to regain their confidence and quickly. They have to find “it.”