By Steve Silverman
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Jeff Carter and Mike Richards must have an uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomachs as they prepare for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
They may not even realize what that feeling is as they get ready to go to Staples Center for Game 5 of the championship series, but there is something uneasy going on within their psyches, if not their entire bodies.
They have been there. They have been on the right side of not one, but two of the most amazing comebacks the sport has seen.
As members of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, they were on a team that fell behind 0-3 in a second-round series against the Boston Bruins. In the fourth game of that series, the Flyers gave up a last-minute goal that allowed the Bruins to send the game into overtime. Boston had at least three good chances to win that game in the extra session before Simon Gagne swatted the puck past Tuukka Rask and gave the Flyers a win.
They went on to win the next three games in the series and become the first team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the 1975 New York Islanders did it to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Carter and Richards have both made their way to Los Angeles since then, and they were members of the Kings team that won the Stanley Cup in 2012. The Kings have been as competitive as any team in the Stanley Cup playoffs over the last three years. They were stopped in the Western Conference Final last year before making it all the way to the championship round this year.
But they nearly had that journey stopped in the first week of this year’s postseason. They lost the first three games of their opening-round series to the San Jose Sharks, and there appeared to be no way that the big, fast and talented team from Northern California would spit the bit and lose the next four games.
Yet, that’s just what happened. The Kings certainly picked up their level of play over the next four games, but the real story of that series was how badly the Sharks played once they had a chance to clinch the series. It was a choke job of historic proportions.
Which brings us back to Carter and Richards. They know the hockey Gods have smiled on them twice under the most difficult of circumstances, and they have lived to tell about it.
They are both accomplished professional athletes who have played big roles in the series. They would never acknowledge anything close to fear or pessimism when it comes to the outcome of a series.
But they are also human. They both know they have defied the odds. How is it possible that they have overcome 3-0 deficits not once, but twice? None of the best players who have competed in the NHL over the decades — Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux — can make such a claim.
But Carter and Richards can.
The fates have been kind, but they both know from long years in the game that the fates have a way of catching up. If they can win two series when facing the worst kind of deficit, they know they can lose a series when they have the 3-0 edge.
They don’t dare talk about it with their teammates, because with one loss already on the record it could plant quite a bit of doubt. Hockey players are a very superstitious lot. Don’t walk on the logo in the locker room and don’t touch the conference championship trophy, and many other things of that nature.
What goes around comes around.
On the ice, the Kings appear to have little to worry about. They outplayed the Rangers throughout the second half of Game 4, but they could not get the tying goal past Henrik Lundqvist.
But just getting that first win should do wonders for the Rangers as they take the ice at Staples Center. They could have won both games in Los Angeles, but they didn’t know how relentless the Kings were at that point.
They know now, and if they can do just a bit better when it comes to taking advantage of all scoring opportunities and protecting every square inch of ice in their own zone, it could be enough to bring the series back to New York for Game 6 Monday night.
The Rangers will have to use their speed and avoid careless penalties to have a real opportunity. They have been able to get behind the Kings’ defense and bury some opportunities by going high on Jonathan Quick. That’s how Benoit Pouliot started Game 1, and his deft deflection in Game 4 also allowed the Rangers to break their scoreless streak and open the scoring in Game 4.
Quick is an excellent goalie who ranks among the best in the league. But he has shown some vulnerability with shots to the upper reaches of the net. Pouliot has figured this out, and so has Mats Zuccarello.
A couple of Zuccarello chances have whizzed over the top of the net. He had wraparound chances in Games 3 and 4, and both went over the crossbar. That won’t happen in a third straight game.
The Kings are going to try to build on the territorial advantage they had in the third period of Game 4, when they outshot New York 15-1. If the Rangers can survive this onslaught and keep the Kings off the scoreboard in the game’s first 10 minutes, this could be the game that makes this Stanley Cup Final a truly memorable series.
The Kings have been a dominant team that has made their own luck through the first three-plus rounds. But they also know that good luck can’t continue forever.
Carter and Richards have been there twice before. They know how fast these things can get away from a team.
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