A day later, the sting is still there. Of course it will take time to recover from seeing the Rangers fall short against the Kings, who again are Stanley Cup Kings following one of the best games in Stanley Cup history. Alec Martinez won Game 5 in double overtime to finally make Los Angeles winners of Lord Stanley for a second time in three years.
Truth be told, they were the best team. A resilient one who never died as San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago can attest to. The Rangers became their fourth victim blowing leads in all three overtime defeats at Staples Center. In Games 2 and 5, they led after two periods only to succumb to a more powerful opponent, who severely outplayed them in the third. Amazingly, the Kings outscored the Rangers 3-0. But it was more than that as they attacked at every opportunity and only Henrik Lundqvist prolonged the inevitable.
That came in gut wrenching fashion with the Rangers losing all three times in sudden death. In Game 1, they blew a 2-0 lead and never had a chance with deserving Conn Smythe recipient Justin Williams cashing in on a Dan Girardi turnover for the winner. In Game 2, they had enough chances in the first overtime but Chris Kreider hit the post and was denied by Jonathan Quick prior to Dustin Brown’s redirect. Friday night’s Game 5 was most painful because they blew so many opportunities including two near misses with Ryan McDonagh hitting the post and Rick Nash having a wide open shot with a gaping net deflect off the crossbar. Eventually, Martinez converted off a 3-on-2 rebounding home a Tyler Toffoli shot to play the ultimate hero.
When looking at the Kings, that defined who they were. A highly skilled team who never was out of a game or series. Their attitude and calm demeanor allowed them to rally from an 0-3 deficit against the Sharks and come from behind the Ducks after trailing 3-2. After nearly blowing a 3-1 lead against the Blackhawks, they rallied back from two deficits in Game 7 with Marian Gaborik forcing overtime and then the same Martinez having a seeing eye shot stun United Center. Twice against his former team, Gaborik scored clutch tying goals in the third including last night’s power play goal with 12:03 left that allowed Martinez to finish off a great run.
It’s hard not to wonder why Mats Zuccarello was penalized for tripping instead of the LA defenseman who seemed to do it to him previously. The same can be echoed for the non-call on Dwight King in Game 2 that turned that one around and perhaps the series. We’ll never know how it would’ve played out. Given how poorly they were protecting leads, I doubt it would’ve mattered whether Zuccarello was in the box. LA was going to find a way to tie it. They were the bigger team who got stronger throughout. Something which plagued our smaller Blueshirts.
Even on a night when they showed tremendous heart with Kreider converting a power play goal off a wonderful feed from McDonagh and Brian Boyle scoring a remarkable shorthanded goal at 19:30 of the second to dramatically give them a 2-1 lead, the Rangers didn’t have enough to get it done. They again tried to cling to a one-goal lead and paid dearly. It’s one thing to play air tight defense as they had against not as strong an opponent in the Canadiens. Quite another to try the same tactic against a powerhouse like the Kings, who made mince meat of Alain Vigneault’s strategy.
With the offseason already beginning, there are many questions. How many players will remain from the 2013-14 Rangers? There are key unrestricted free agents such as Anton Stralman, Boyle, Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot and Daniel Carcillo with RFA’s Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Kreider and John Moore due raises. Plus Glen Sather must decide on buyout candidate Brad Richards. It’s all too complicated to answer. For now, let’s just reflect on what was an awesome run and appreciate what this team accomplished. I’ve never been prouder.