There were two champions on the ice Friday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, yet only one of them was crowned as such. The Rangers Stanley Cup dream came to an end with a 3-2 double overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings, their third overtime defeat of the memorable series which they lost four games to one.
Kings defenseman Alec Martinez buried the rebound of a Tyler Toffoli shot at 14:43 of the second overtime to end the Rangers magical run as well as an extremely evenly-played series in which many--if not all--of the games could have gone either way.
"This is the worst feeling you can have as a hockey player," stated alternate captain Marc Staal in the Rangers quiet postgame dressing room. "You get this far, you do so much as a group and as a team, and we fought so hard. Just a terrible feeling."
Henrik Lundqvist made 48 saves in an incredibly valiant effort between the pipes in Game Five on Friday. Jonathan Quick finished with 28 for the Kings, who won their second Cup in the past three years.
"It was a battle of the two best goalies in the world and our goalie gave us the chance to win, but we couldn't get a goal for our goalie, and that's another frustrating part of this," shared center Derick Brassard. "It's pretty hard to lose this way and see them celebrate, and that's something we wanted to reach. We're not satisfied with just being Eastern Conference champions. We wanted to win the Cup."
The Rangers had carried a 2-1 lead into the third period--on goals late in the second by Chris Kreider and Brian Boyle--and Lundqvist kept it that way with huge saves on Willie Mitchell and Jake Muzzin through traffic thirty seconds apart seven minutes into the period. However a questionable tripping penalty called against Mats Zuccarello at 7:39 led to a Kings power play goal which tied the score, 2-2, just 18 seconds later.
Lundqvist made a pad save on a Drew Doughty shot--after New York had failed to clear the puck out of its own zone--and Marian Gaborik pushed the rebound over the goal line for his league-leading 14th playoff goal, and second of the Cup Final against his former team, tying the score at the 7:56 mark of the third period.
"We played some good hockey at times, obviously, but we found ways to lose leads, and you can't do that," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played a game-high 42 minutes 12 seconds on Friday. "That team that won it, they're pretty relentless. They keep coming and pushing; but our guys battled, battled hard."
With the fans screaming "We want the Cup!", the Kings piled on the pressure, forcing the Rangers into a series of turnovers and icings as the period progressed. It was yet another third period in this series in which the Rangers were vastly outplayed by the Kings, but Lundqvist held them at bay and perhaps a too-excited Kings team helped New York with a string of misfired shots, as well.
By time the buzzer sounded signaling the end to regulation, an exhausted Rangers team trudged off to the dressing room after having been outshot 12-3 over the final twenty minutes of play. Only one of those Ranger shots--a spinning one by Boyle from the low slot with 4:09 to play--required a sharp save by Quick.
"We tried our best, everybody laid it out there," stated head coach Alain Vigneault, who guided the Rangers to within three wins of a Stanley Cup championship in his first season behind the team's bench. "I'm very proud of our group, very proud of their effort."
The first overtime was an absolutely thrilling, heart-stopping 20 minutes of end-to-end action played by a pair of champions. Both teams seemingly played without fear, often throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to secure the Game Five victory, with both teams coming oh-so-close to sealing the deal on several occasions each.
McDonagh beat Quick with a power play shot from left wing at 4:43 of the first overtime, but saw his shot hit the far post flush. Eight minutes later Kings forward Tyler Toffoli rang a shot off the crossbar, and the two teams played on into the Los Angeles evening.
Lundqvist made 13 saves in that first overtime including an amazingly-quick left-pad save on a Justin Williams slam dunk just 1:47 into the extra period. Williams was also stoned twice more in succession by Lundqvist with 4:48 to play in the first overtime, and there were other near misses by Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, as well.
Williams, who scored the first goal of Game Five and led all players with seven points in the final, was selected as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as post-season most valuable player.
At the other end of the ice Quick made a huge blocker save on a Kreider breakaway with 33 seconds left in the opening overtime, and also denied Martin St. Louis on a pair of great chances from the slot--one a deflection, the other a one-timer--midway through the period. Quick made ten saves in the first overtime.
"Both teams were battling at an unreal level," stated Vigneault.
After being held to single digit shots on goal, and turned aside at every turn by the Kings excellent defensive play, the Rangers finally broke through late in the second period, incredibly turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead in a blink of an eye--with both goals the product of terrific special teams play.
Kreider tied the game at 15:37, chipping in a power play shot from in front of the Kings net after a pretty cross-crease pass from McDonagh. It was only New York's second power play goal during the Cup Final, and only the 13th power play goal scored by the Rangers the entire 25-game post-season. The goal was Kreider's team-best third on the power play this spring, his fifth overall, and his first of the series. Brad Richards also assisted on the goal, along with McDonagh.
The Kings pushed back after the visitors had tied the score, and seemed poised to answer back when granted a power play of their own at 17:37. However with Dominic Moore in the penalty box for a hooking minor, Carl Hagelin raced after a loose puck near the benches at center ice and worked it to Boyle skating through the zone. Boyle carried the puck over the blue line, drifted to his left, and then snapped the goal of his career up and over Quick's glove into the top right corner of the net with just 29.6 seconds remaining in the second period. From the penalty box Moore celebrated wildly and the Staples Center went quiet.
It was a dramatic turn of events as the Rangers had trailed since the 6:04 mark of the first period. The Kings started the game with a great surge and had the Rangers back on their heels, and it almost seemed inevitable that they would score early, which they did when Williams banged his ninth goal of the post-season under Lundqvist off a scramble in front. Lundqvist had made several saves during that frantic sequence, but never saw Williams slip the puck under him.
From that point onward the Kings seemed content to shut the Rangers down with a complete team defensive effort. To the Rangers credit, they righted themselves and played much better after allowing the first goal, not to mention the first five shots of the game.
New York managed just six shots in each of the first two periods, while the Kings totaled 17 through 40 minutes of play. Lundqvist was tested more often than Quick, and LA did possess the puck more than did the visitors, but the disparity in play was not so great. Still it did not make the sudden turn of events late in the second period any less surprising, or the final result any less painful.
"We battled, we battled tremendously hard and stayed professional even when we were down 3-0 (in the series)," explained Richards. "When you lose three overtime games in their building, it's hard to explain, but they won them. It's definitely worth every second these last two months, but right now you're just speechless."