By Steve Kallas
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You got sick of hearing it if you are a Rangers fan.
You know what I’m talking about. The Western Conference is much stronger than the Eastern Conference. The top four teams in the West could easily beat the Rangers. The Rangers should hope that they “don’t get embarrassed in the Cup finals.”
No (unbiased) hockey fan — or “expert,” for that matter — could have watched the Stanley Cup finals and thought anything other than this was a close series. If you are “much better,” you are simply not going to have three games in your rink go to overtime. The fact that the Kings won all three is a testament to their Stanley Cup-winning experience and their ability, with a top goaltender to shut down a not-very-good-scoring team in the New York Rangers.
SO WAS IT A ‘CLOSE’ SERIES?
You bet it was. The Rangers took two-goal leads ON THE ROAD in the first two Stanley Cup Final games. The Kings’ ability to bounce back in series and in games throughout the playoffs was well-documented. It should have come as no surprise that the Kings were able to come back and win both games in OT.
Game 3 was one of the strangest games — from a scoring perspective — in the history of the Stanley Cup finals. All three goals by the Kings were of the weird/lucky/deflection type. The first went in off the skate of a prone Dan Girardi, the second went in off the glove of Martin St. Louis and the third was a two-on-one break when Mike Richards — trying to pass the puck across the ice to Trevor Lewis — had the puck come right back to him off the skate of Ryan McDonagh for an easy goal.
After the Rangers won Game 4, Game 5 was a game for the ages. Both goalies stood on their respective heads, and it wasn’t until Henrik Lundqvist gave up a rebound in the second OT that the Kings claimed their Cup.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE TWO NON-CALLS — OR WRONG CALLS?
While it’s almost pointless to complain about the referees, there were two incredible plays that really compromised the Rangers’ chances of extending the finals.
The first occurred in Game 2 when, with the Rangers up 4-2 in the third period, Dwight King drove the net on Lundqvist and clearly interfered with him while deflecting in the third goal for the Kings. Apparently the ref thought the interference took place after the puck was past Lundqvist, an absurdity which was proven wrong on replay.
Except this play, according to NHL rules, is not reviewable. And the NHL has already decided that this play will probably not be reviewable next year. So you can expect the same absurdity to happen again in a big game.
Hopefully someone with a brain and some power at the NHL will rethink this position.
The second play was a call that went the wrong way for the Rangers. Up a goal in the third period of Game 5, the puck was swung around the boards but deflected in the air towards the blue line. Jake Muzzin, trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone, clearly tripped Mats Zuccarello, who was attacking the point.
Inexplicably, the ref — not having a feel for the fact that Muzzin was trying to stop a potential breakaway by the Rangers while also trying to stop the puck — called a trip on Zuccarello, rather than on Muzzin. On the ensuing power play, the Kings cut the lead to 4-3. Former Ranger Marian Gaborik tied the game later in the period.
How are we sure that this was a terrible call? Well, not because former Ranger Eddie Olczyk said it on the NBC telecast right when it happened. And not because Keith Jones said so between periods. We know it was a terrible call because former Bruins player and Islanders executive Mike Milbury said so during the intermission.
If Milbury said that the Rangers got the shaft, well, the Rangers got the shaft.
Again, neither of these plays would have given the Rangers a win. But both would have given them a better chance to win.
And maybe made the series even closer.
WHAT ABOUT LUNDQVIST VERSUS JONATHAN QUICK?
This was an excellent matchup of arguably the two best goaltenders in hockey. While many pointed out before the series that Quick was already a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, many of them failed to point out that he was the Conn Smythe winner, as well, in 2012. This certainly seemed to give him an edge over Lundqvist, who was playing in his first Final.
Although Lundqvist played great for much of the series, you obviously have to give the edge to Quick. He shut out the Rangers in overtime in two double OT games and a third game in single OT. He also shut out the Rangers at the Garden in the Kings’ one victory that did not go to overtime. In addition, Quick did not allow a goal in any third period in the five-game series.
Even against a poor-scoring team like the Rangers, that’s an amazing stat.
But that doesn’t take away from what Lundqvist did in this series. He was unbelievable for much of it and, unlike Quick, seemed to be at the wrong end of a shooting gallery much of the time.
The Rangers were outshot 20-3 in the third period of Game 1 and 15-1 in the third period of their only win. In the Cup-clinching Game 5, the Kings outshot the Rangers by an astounding 51-30 margin.
WHAT ABOUT THE COMPARISONS OF LUNDQVIST TO PATRICK EWING?
Well, they’re unfair to both players. Patrick Ewing, a superstar throughout his entire Knicks career, was killed for not winning a title in the Michael Jordan era. But he never played with a real top player and couldn’t do it by himself.
Lundqvist still has time to get a Cup, but it’s going to be very difficult. The Rangers of 2014 didn’t have a Mark Messier or a Brian Leetch. They need scoring. They need a top center. They need some more size to play teams like the Kings and the Bruins.
Brad Richards and Rick Nash were disappointments, but hockey isn’t basketball where you can stuff a stat sheet just by being on the court and around the basket.
Hockey is a zero-sum sport. You either score goals or you don’t.
While the Rangers have a great goaltender and a very good defensive core, it’s going to be up to the front office and coaching staff to get more scoring on this team. Lundqvist often reminds you of the pitcher who knows his team won’t score very much, and thus feels additional pressure to not give up a goal/run. That puts added pressure on a goaltender or a pitcher.
Ewing was a superstar. Lundqvist is a superstar. But, for better or worse, if you don’t win a championship in today’s sports world it will be held against you by many uninformed fans forever.
Were the Kings better than the Rangers? Yes. Were they bigger and stronger? You betcha. Did they outplay the Rangers? Absolutely. But any “expert” who thinks that this wasn’t a close series simply doesn’t understand the game of hockey.
Congratulations to the Kings, but here’s hoping that the Rangers — with a little more scoring and a few other things — can get back to the finals next year and win another Stanley Cup.
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