Perhaps if you didn't have a team to root for Saturday night when the Rangers and Los Angeles Kings played Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final at the Staples Center you could have simply enjoyed an absolutely epic, fiercely-contested battle that took a pair of overtimes to decide.
However if you were in any way associated with the visiting team as a fan, player, coach, or staff member, Game Two was simply a vicious kick in the gut--an absolute heartbreaker--as the Rangers let a pair of two-goal leads slip away in a 5-4 double overtime defeat.
"It's not going to be a cakewalk, it's the Stanley Cup Final," Derek Stepan said after the game. "We played a good hockey game and there were some unfortunate bounces for us. We have to make sure we go back home and take care of business."
Kings' captain Dustin Brown decided the contest by deflecting a Willie Mitchell slap shot past Henrik Lundqvist after 90 minutes and 26 seconds of hockey had been played on Saturday night, putting the Rangers in a 2-0 series hole heading back to Madison Square Garden for Games Three and Four of the Final on Monday and Wednesday.
"It's a tough loss no matter what way you slice it, even if we had played the greatest game in the world," said alternate captain Dan Girardi, who played 36 minutes 18 seconds Saturday. "We're playing for the biggest prize in hockey and we have a 2-0 hole here we've got to dig ourselves out of. We're excited to go back home to The Garden and hopefully get a couple there."
Incredibly the Rangers--who have now blown 2-0 leads in each of the first two games of this series--have never trailed through 155 minutes and two seconds in this year's Stanley Cup Final except at the conclusion of each overtime. They let a 2-0 lead disipate into a 3-2 overtime loss on a Justin Williams goal 4:36 into overtime in Game One on Wednesday, and on Saturday raced to another 2-0 first-period lead--and also entered the third period with a 4-2 advantage--adding to the misery of their Game Two defeat.
The tide tuned early in the third period Saturday when Dwight King redirected a Matt Greene shot into the Rangers net at 1:58. Immediately afterwards Lundqvist complained long and hard that he had been interfered with by King, with television replays seeming to suport his claim.
"I'm extremely disappointed on that call, or non-call," said Lundqvist, who made 39 saves Saturday. "They score a goal and I can't even move. It's extremely frustrating for them to get life like that."
Former Ranger Marian Gaborik tied the game at 7:36 of the third period, scoring his league-leading 13th playoff goal after a turnover by the visitors behind their goal line. Ironically Gaborik had scored the game-winning goal in the Rangers most recent multiple-overtime game, the triple-OT thriller against Washington during the 2012 playoffs.
Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, and Derick Brassard all scored a goal and added an assist for New York, while Rick Nash a game-high eight shots on goal and Chris Kreider was credited with a team-best nine hits to go along with five shots on goal.
"I think we played a really solid game that could've gone either way," said Brassard, a +2 in 23:47 worth of ice time in Game Two. "I just feel we could be going back to New York with two wins, but instead we're going back with two losses. They both could have gone either way."
The Rangers had the better of the play during the first overtime, outshooting Los Angeles 8-6, and more importantly possessing the puck much more and generating the better scoring chances. Kreider had three fantastic opportunities to win the game during the first overtime--ringing a shot off the post at 7:51, being denied by Jonathan Quick's blocker on a breakaway at 16:21, then stoned by Quick's pad on a put back of an excellent Nash shot with 23.4 seconds to play.
"We blew a 2-0 lead, lost again, and I had a couple chances to win it and didn't finish, so I'm going to have to be better," summarized Kreider in the postgame dressing room. "It's time to go on to the next one (game)."
New York killed off a Kings power play in the first OT, while failing on a pair of their own. Lundqvist made a big stop to deny Trevor Lewis shorthanded, and moments later King fired wide from the slot on a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity after Brad Richards had fallen down up ice.
The frantic paced of the first overtime period slowed in the second, and Los Angeles managed to outshoot New York 6-1. Quick closed out Game Two with 34 saves.
McDonagh, who played a monster game all night long, opened the scoring at 10:48 of the first period. Dominc Moore picked off an errant Williams pass in the Kings zone and quickly slid the puck to McDonagh at the left point. With a crowd in front of Quick, McDonagh ripped a slap shot into the back of the net for his fourth goal of the post-season, and for the second straight game in this series, New York had the game's first goal.
The visitors then proceeded to up their lead to 2-0 late in the first period, just as they had done in Game One Wednesday. Zuccarello, who had led the charge out of the Rangers zone earlier in the sequence, finished it off by banging home a rebound of McDonagh's shot at 18:46. The two point night for McDonagh gives him a team-best 16 points in the post-season, second to LA's Drew Doughty among all league defensemen.
Zuccarello's goal was not only a big one for the Rangers, it was historic, as well. It marked the first time a Norwegian-born player had ever scored a goal in the Stanley Cup Final.
"Our start was great," noted Kreider. "If we play like that, nine times out of ten we will win."
The 2-0 lead help up to the first intermission closing out a first-period which was played at a furious pace and which was not for the faint of heart. McDonagh nailed Jeff Carter with a hip check at 3:30 which sent the Kings center briefly to the dressing room; and Girardi had to shake off a Williams hit and recover in the dressing room a few minutes later. Anton Stralman was buried twice on thunderous hits on the same shift 5:20 into the game, and on the next shift McDonagh hammered Tyler Toffoli into the back boards. Before the period ended McDonagh and Brown exchanged nasty cross checks, with only the Rangers defenseman picking up a penalty at 15:06.
The Kings cut into the Rangers lead just 1:46 into the second on a freakish play. Following a Richards turnover, Lundqvist made a sharp save which caused him to drift far out of the net. Jarret Stoll slid a slow-moving shot towards the cage and defenseman Kevin Klein, on his knees in the crease, failed to stop it, and the Rangers lead was 2-1 just 1:46 into the middle stanza.
Martin St. Louis scored the first power play goal for either team in the series to restore New York's two-goal lead at 11:24 of the second. Taking a pretty feed from Stepan on right-wing, St. Louis--while falling to the ice--one-timed his shot past Quick, his seventh goal of the playoffs.
The Kings came right back with a power play goal of their own at 14:39 when Mitchell drove a slap shot past Lundqvist, with Zuccarello in the penalty box for a tripping minor. Off the next face off Zuccarello redeemed himself by quickly pouncing on a misplayed puck behind the Kings net and feeding out in front to Brassard who one-timed his sixth playoff goal into the back of the cage, just 11 seconds after Mitchell's goal.
However the Kings showed plenty of push back in the third period, coming all the way back to pull even by the 7:36 mark of the period on the goals by King and Gaborik, and then survived multiple scares until Brown scored the game-winner at 10:26 of the second overtime.