By Matt Calamia
The buzz words around the 2014 Stanley Cup Final has been “puck luck,” and how the Rangers felt the Kings were getting more of that over the first three games of the series and the Rangers were more or less victims of not receiving it.
That could very well be the case, with many Los Angeles goals through the opening three games — all Kings wins — coming off deflections, missed calls or just bad bounces, while the Rangers felt they did enough good things to warrant better results than what the Hockey Gods had ordered up.
That changed — at least partially — Wednesday night when the Rangers staved off elimination in a 2-1 Game 4 victory at Madison Square Garden that saw two Kings chances be kept out of the net on the goal line, while both Blueshirt markers came off either deflections or bounces that went their way for a change.
Whether it’s luck or a higher hockey power at work, the Rangers will take what is given as they work to overcome the 3-1 hole they now find themselves in.
“We needed it,” Henrik Lundqvist said Thursday, a day after his 40-save performance in Game 4. “You don’t think so much about it during the game. You just go out there and try to play as hard as you can. But there are moments when there’s so many things you can have an impact on. Your game you can control, a couple of other things. But there’s also so much out of your control.”
With the Rangers facing one of the most complete and resilient teams in the NHL, positive bounces can sway a game on a dime, especially in close contests.
“A couple of times last night, you know, we had that luck that you need in a tight game,” Lundqvist continued. “Sometimes you say it, maybe not mean it 100 percent, but the factor of luck, in a series against a good team, you’re going to need it to win games.”
Not everyone is sold, though, as Kings forward Justin Williams said he was of the opinion that just mentioning puck luck is just an excuse for a team not getting the results it had hoped.
“Anybody that’s been in this game for any amount of time knows that there’s battles on the ice and sometimes whether you call it hockey gods or hockey plays or whatever,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Like when Dan [Girardi] was shooting the puck from the point and the knob of his stick stays in his hand, you can call that a hockey play or you can call it whatever you want. It doesn’t matter to me.”
Vigneault said the bounces are part of the game, and that teams must work to be in the right position — whether offensively or defensively — to capitalize on those breaks.
While Vigneault did not change up personnel for Game 4, he did do some rearranging in terms of his forward lines, the most notable change moving Brad Richards to the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett.
Richards was self-critical Thursday in California, stating his lack of production — pointless in the Final — and said that as long as the team is having success, personal success at this stage of the season gets put on the back burner.
“Go try and to win a game, really,” Richards said when asked what his immediate reaction was upon learning of the line change. “If you’re down 3-0, you know, there’s something that has to change sometimes. Just talk to the line mates, go play.”
Vigneault praised Richards’ leadership, calling him a “team-first guy,” but said that a change was needed with the team being in the position it found itself in.
“As a coach — and especially at this time of the year when you don’t get a lot of these opportunities — sometimes you got to make decisions that might be a little tough to make on a personal aspect,” Vigneault said. “But on a team aspect, you have to. I just felt that certain guys were playing a little bit better than Brad.”
Richards played about three minutes fewer in Game 4 than he did in Game 3.
Though the Rangers are taking it one game at a time, the feeling is that if the Blueshirts can take Game 5 in Los Angeles, the pressure could begin to be felt on the Kings’ bench.
“I know if we win tomorrow, they’re definitely going to feel the pressure,” Lundqvist said, after admitting he hasn’t thought much about the subject. “We were in that spot playing Montreal. The closer you are to your final goal, obviously, you tend to think more. That’s just the way you work. It’s hard not to.
“We’re looking at tomorrow,” Lundqvist added. “It’s a great opportunity for us to try and take this back to New York. It would be a lot of fun to get another game in New York and see what we can do with that. But that’s as far as we look at it right now.”