We’re gonna continue the roll here and have our third Live Stanley Cup Final Chat today at noon. Be there. Or else.
Here’s my column from The Journal News and lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – With two days off between Game 1 and Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers and Los Angeles Kings didn’t skate Thursday.
The Rangers kicked back at their resort hotel just yards from the Pacific Ocean. But the warm breeze they felt was the breath of coach Alain Vigneault.
Vigneault didn’t use the phrase “big boy pants” as he did before Game 3 of the Rangers’ second-round series against Pittsburgh, perhaps because after he did, they were shut out in Game 3 and played their worst game of the playoffs in Game 4.
The Rangers had every chance to win Game 1 of the final Wednesday night in Los Angeles, yet Vigneault — and many who watched — wondered if they indeed deserved that opportunity that was squandered when a two-goal lead turned into a lopsided final 20 minutes of regulation, and eventually a 3-2 overtime loss on a bad bounce/bad decision by Dan Girardi.
“One thing that’s real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we’re not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our ‘A’ game,” Vigneault said. “It is that strong of an opponent that we’re playing against.
“We had (Henrik Lundqvist) that brought his ‘A’ game (Wednesday). We had a couple guys. I don’t want to name who I think brought their ‘A’ game. But our ‘B’ game won’t do it. We’re not going to win if we bring our ‘B’ game to the table.”
Not to put words or names in the coach’s mouth, but the Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash line didn’t do enough — Stepan’s turnover led directly to the first Kings goal, though Kreider took full responsibility for his earlier chance to get the puck out of the zone. The Brad Richards-Martin St. Louis Tampa Bay connection didn’t do much at all, though St. Louis had a chance to win it late, and their left winger, Carl Hagelin, was by far the best Rangers forward. The Rangers’ usually reliable fourth line gave up the tying goal. The power play did everything but score, and the penalty kill did score (Hagelin).
And the top four defensemen — well, all six really, but the top four especially — had some woeful moments.
You could argue that a lot of that had to do with the big, heavy Kings and the physical punishment they doled out.
“Yeah, we knew they were going to push, test us physically,” Ryan McDonagh said. “I thought we matched it pretty well. I thought especially the early part of the game there, we were able to break their forecheck, get out of our zone. They got a few more opportunities in the third because of their forecheck.”
If you’re looking for a reason for the Rangers to be worried, the Comeback Kings felt they were out of gas, physically and mentally, after their third Game 7 road win of the playoffs, Sunday in Chicago. They felt they played poorly the entire first period. They truly believe they are better than they showed in Game 1.
So are the Rangers, who played their best game of the playoffs their previous time out, Game 6 vs. Montreal.
“When we played Game 6 against Montreal, each and every player brought his ‘A’ game,” Vigneault said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. But against this opponent, I do believe our expectations are to win; got to find a way to do it.”
Time for the big boys to show up.
MCDONAGH, TEAMMATES SUPPORT GIRARDI:
Dan Girardi had the puck bounce over his stick, then lost his footing. Soon he was turning it over, his Rangers teammates were leaving the zone, and Los Angeles Kings forward Justin Williams was firing an uncontested shot past Henrik Lundqvist for the overtime winner Wednesday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Girardi’s defense partner, Ryan McDonagh, said he completely understood, having once shot the puck over the glass for a playoff-game-costing penalty in Washington. So McDonagh talked to Girardi right away in the locker room, and “that’s how we work through things as a group.
“If it was flip-flopped and it was me,” McDonagh said Thursday, “he would have come to me and asked me, ‘What could we have done differently; what could we have done better?’ ”
McDonagh also shared some of the blame.
“It’s an unfortunate play,” he said. “In those situations, especially at that point of the game, we’ve got to understand that when a guy is in trouble, maybe it’s not the right time to leave the zone. I was one of those guys that left the zone, anticipating a play that we were going to get it out. But at that point in the game, we just need to help him and be supportive and be close there in case it happens; be 100 percent on our plays before we know what happens.”
Former friend a foe: Marian Gaborik admitted it was “a little weird,” at first in Game 1, to play against the Rangers for the first time since the 2013 trade that sent him to the Blue Jackets.
Gaborik, who has spent 13 seasons in the NHL, is playing in his first Stanley Cup Final. He said he was present for Cup-attended celebrations for Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara and Chicago forward Marian Hossa, his neighbors in Slovakia.
“That maybe gives you that extra motivation to see those guys winning the Cup. And, no, I didn’t touch it, by the way.”
This and that: Teams winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the championship in 57 of 74 seasons (77 percent) since it became a best-of-seven series in 1939. … The game was the 14th multigoal comeback victory of the playoffs, setting a single-year NHL record. … The Kings have erased 2-0 deficits in three of their last five wins.
Photo by Getty Images.