By Steve Silverman
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The Rangers had the Kings on the ropes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and needed just a bit more finish and a bit more grit to take home-ice advantage away from the Western Conference champions.
The advantage New York had in all the pre-series assessments seemed correct in the first period. The Rangers had the speed and explosiveness edge on the Kings, and they put those advantages on display as they jumped to a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin.
They had several additional opportunities to put another goal past Jonathan Quick, and if they had, it might have been enough to secure the series lead.
But when Kyle Clifford scored late in the first period and the redoubtable Drew Doughty made up for a first period giveaway by scoring the game-tying goal early in the second period, it seemed the Kings played the rest of the game with an air of inevitability.
The Rangers had the advantage in the first period – even though the Kings had a 14-13 edge in shots on goal – and the second period was relatively even. However, the Kings were all over the Rangers in the third period as they strafed Henrik Lundqvist with 20 shots on goal.
None of them got by the King, and it appeared that the Rangers would have a chance to take the first game in overtime. The Rangers looked good in the first few minutes as Rick Nash and Derek Stepan put testing shots on Quick, but all hopes of taking the game disappeared when a Dan Girardi giveaway resulted in Justin Williams’ snipe into the corner of the net at the 4:36 mark of overtime.
The Kings are a formidable team, but the Rangers put their edge in speed and quickness on display and Lundqvist’s skills were also Game 1 highlights.
However, the Rangers have to show more quality depth if they are going to find a way to keep the Kings from winning their second Stanley Cup in three years.
The Kings got huge contributions from their third- and fourth-liners in Game 1, and that’s something that all Stanley Cup champions have seen in recent years.
Nobody knows this better than Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault, who was coaching the Vancouver Canucks when they lost a seven-game Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins. Those two teams appeared to be even in a lot of areas throughout the final series, but Vigneault quickly acknowledged that the Bruins received a superior contribution from their third- and fourth-line players than the Canucks were able to muster from their bottom six.
Since that series, regardless of whether he was coaching in Vancouver 0r New York, Vigneault has looked to upgrade his so-called bottom-six forwards.
In addition to the Kings getting their first goal from Clifford and the game-winner from Williams, Mike Richards was a key contributor as he won 64 percent of his face-offs. Powerful left wing Trevor Lewis was credited with four hits and one blocked shot. Jarret Stoll had three hits and won 50 percent of his face-offs, while burly Dwight King imposed his will with three hits.
Pouliot’s opening goal demonstrated that the Rangers third line was a positive factor in Game 1, but neither he nor linemates Mats Zuccarello nor Derick Brassard seemed to be at their best once the game advanced past the halfway point.
Brian Boyle did superb work prior to Hagelin’s goal and received an assist for his efforts, but he was also on the ice for two Los Angeles goals. Boyle was also called for a slashing penalty late in the third period that carried over into the early moments of overtime.
Boyle’s linemates, Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore, were decent, but they did not skate with the same kind of marauding power that the Kings’ fourth-liners showed on a consistent basis.
If the Rangers are going to assert themselves in this series, they are going to have to play with a lot more swagger than they showed in Game 1.
It doesn’t all fall on the third- and fourth-liners, but players like Brassard, Pouliot, Zuccarello, Boyle, Dorsett and Moore must show their willingness to engage their bigger and stronger opponents in front of the net and in the corners.
They have to do that, because they are not going to dazzle their opponents with their overall skill level.
It’s about effort and belief, and the Kings got it from their bottom six in Game 1. The Rangers need to see a lot more of it from this point forward.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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