Monday, June 16, 2014
Rangers-Kings Cup Final closer than experts expected
By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)
You got sick of hearing it if you are a Ranger fan. The West is much stronger than the East. 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” (a nameless “expert” cause his name wasn’t given on the radio when this prediction was revealed after the Kings were up three games to none).
No (unbiased) hockey fan (or “expert,” for that matter) could have watched the 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 (17 members of this team were on the 2012 Cup-winning team) 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 (down 3-0 to San Jose in round one, for example) and in games (down two goals in Game 7 in the Western Conference final against the defending champion Chicago team) was well-documented. It should be no surprise (while, at the same time, a huge disappointment to Ranger fans) 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 (in a game where they didn’t play particularly well (other than The King) and the only game where the bounces went their way), Game 5 was a game for the ages; both goalies stood on their respective heads and it wasn’t until Lundqvist gave up a rebound (that he couldn’t help because the initial shot was also deflected by a Ranger (John Moore) and caused Lundqvist to make another great save at the cost of giving up a rebound) in the second OT that the Kings could claim their Cup.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE TWO CALLS (OR 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 (not winning; let’s be fair, Ranger fans) 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, while you would think that, after an obvious bad call in a Cup Final, the NHL would put this on plays to be reviewable next season, the NHL, in its infinite wisdom, 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 re-think this position and, when a goal is scored (and, thus, play is stopped) on this type of play, there will be allowed a review of possible interference in front of the net.
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, possibly hoping to get a breakaway if the airborne puck slipped by Muzzin.
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. Then Ranger-killer (and 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 Bruin player (and Islander exec) Mike Milbury said so during the intermission.
If Mike Milbury said that the Rangers got the shaft, well, then, the Rangers got the shaft.
Again, neither of these plays would have given the Rangers a win. But both would have given them a (much?) better chance to win.
And maybe made the series even closer.
WHAT ABOUT LUNDQVIST VERSUS JONATHAN QUICK?
An excellent match-up of, at least 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 (for MVP of the entire playoffs). This certainly seemed to give him an edge over the first-time-in-the-Finals Ranger goaltender.
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 e. In addition, in an amazing stat, Quick did not allow a goal in any third period in the five-game Finals.
Even for 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 (for you old-time Ranger fans, it was much like Gump Worsley – at the end of his Ranger career, not as a Canadien – who was at the wrong end of a shooting gallery for many games late in his Ranger career).
For example, 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.
WHAT ABOUT THE COMPARISONS OF LUNDQVIST TO PATRICK EWING?
Well, unfair to both players. Patrick Ewing, a superstar his entire Knick career, was killed for not winning a title in the Michael Jordan era. But he never played with a real top player (who was healthy; Bernard King doesn’t count) 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. While Brad Richards and Rick Nash were disappointments, 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, etc. on this team. Lundqvist often reminds you of the pitcher who knows his team won’t score very much – he feels additional pressure to not give up a goal/run. That puts added pressure on a goaltender or a pitcher.
Patrick Ewing was a superstar. Henrik Lundqvist is a superstar. But, for better or worse (it says here for worse), if you don’t win a championship in today’s sports world, that will be held against you by many uninformed fans forever (because, after all, these are team games).
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 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.
@ COPYRIGHT 2014 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED