Here’s my column on Game 4, from The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
NEW YORK – The Rangers are going back to Cali.
They have life. Their brink of elimination is no further away than it was before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, their margin for error no smaller.
But they get one more flight, one more game, at minimum, and a chance … just a chance … to maybe make the Final a series after all. A chance to play Game 5, with a chance … just a chance … to maybe get it back to the Garden for Game 6.
Which is all they could have wanted Wednesday night when they took on the Los Angeles Kings, a team with its champagne in the building, which also had somewhere Lord Stanley’s Cup and its blue box and keepers with white gloves.
The Rangers beat the Kings 2-1, finally got a game in the team’s first Final in 20 years. That’s all they could get in one night, so that’s all that they wanted.
They won a game they needed to win, as they have so many times these last three springtimes, in which they are 11-2 in elimination games, in which their goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been stellar.
Lundqvist, who spoke a lot about the deflections and puck-luck that had gone against his team in the first three games — and it’s legit to a large degree — got two breaks in this one, and one bad break, when Dan Girardi’s stick broke and Dustin Brown scored on a second-period breakaway to make it 2-1 and force the Rangers to hang on.
But he got two pucks that got through him and stopped on the goal line, one that Anton Stralman swept off the line and away from Jeff Carter; one, with a little over a minute left, when another got through and stopped in the snow on the line. Derek Stepan pushed it with his glove under Lundqvist’s pad.
“You just have to rely on your teammates and luck,” he said. “I thought I had it because I felt the puck, felt like I got a good piece of it on that deflection. I was yelling at the ref to blow the whistle. Then I realized it was behind me for a couple seconds.”
“I actually apologized,” he said. ” But he was cool about it.”
Now can the Rangers do it again? And then again? And then again?
The place was loud, and something kind of cool happened in the first period — in addition to the Rangers holding a 1-0 lead they might have stolen on many levels.
The jumbo screen above the ice showed Mark Messier in attendance. The Captain waved as the arena roared, then he waved four fingers at the camera … as in four more wins. And it caught on. Michael J. Fox was shown. He waved four. John McEnroe — who occasionally waved one in his playing days — waved four.
The Garden, which has certainly been quiet at times, was not on this night. It was raucous, trying to make a difference, trying to make the exorbitant prices worthwhile, trying to help the season and this long run (one game longer than the ‘94 Cup run) go on for a little while longer.
The Rangers responded, with a lineup that didn’t include changes, but did feature some shuffling. Alain Vigneault bumped Brad Richards down to the fourth line, on left wing with Brian Boyle sliding to center. Carl Hagelin replaced Chris Kreider on the Derek Stepan-Rick Nash line. Kreider moved to the left of Dominic Moore and Martin St. Louis,
But it was the one line that didn’t change that got the Rangers the lead, just two seconds after a power play ended. The best line all season, and the best power-play unit, scored when Benoit Pouliot expertly deflected John Moore’s chest-high shot past Jonathan Quick.
Then in the second, Stepan made a pass that deflected off Kreider in front and St. Louis buried it for the 2-0 lead … that dreaded 2-0 lead … which the Rangers held and lost in Games 1 and 2 … which is why they were in this hole in the first place.
And while they were leading, they were being outplayed at least a bit, at times by a lot, until Los Angeles broke through. Girardi, having a night-sweats series, whiffed on a keep-in attempt when his stick broke, allowing Brown to break away to make it 2-1.
“Yeah, I’m not going to lie,” Lundqvist said. “The first thought was, ‘Here we go again.’
“But it’s always mentally challenging when things happen, especially with things like that. You feel like you have a lot of it under control and you get a bad break You just have to respond the right way and stay positive.”
So the Rangers weren’t going to coast home, they weren’t going to do it easily. They never do. They just never do.
They didn’t. But they lived to play another day.
All that matters.