Better Effort Not Enough As Sharks Lose 3-1 to Rangers

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The New York Rangers defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Saturday. New York goals were scored by Martin St. Louis and Chris Kreider in the first period, and Rick Nash in the third. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 30 of 31 shots for the win. The win completed a sweep of the California NHL teams, as the Rangers beat the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings in back to back games earlier this week.

Joe Thornton returned to the Sharks lineup Saturday in time to face his old teammate Dan Boyle.It was Boyle’s first time playing against the Sharks as a Ranger, since he was out with an injury when the teams first met this season. In Saturday’s game, Boyle had one shot on goal for the Rangers, one hit and one blocked shot in 18:58 of playing time.

Thornton talked about the Sharks loss afterwards: “It was a competitive game, it really was. It felt like we got our chances, they got their chances but our compete level was high, it was a good hockey game.”

If that sounds maddeningly sensible and insufficiently agitated for someone who just lost 3-1 at home, it isn’t. To my eye, the Sharks showed more poise, better effort and energy than they have in a couple of games. All they seemed to lack is confidence. Despite winning two of their last four games, they have had some truly stunning losses. Games like that take time to recover from.

Joe Thornton thought that the way the Sharks played Saturday was a good sign, and Todd McLellan said much the same thing:

The moral victory is the commitment level and the effort went way up. I twas evident. I thought that if we apply ourselves that way most nights, we’ll give ourselves at least an opportunity to win.

Melker Karlsson scored the Sharks’ only goal, extending his scoring streak to five games. It was a little more memorable for the Swedish rookie because he had to beat Henrik Lundqvist to score that goal: “It’s huge. I mean, he’s a big player in Sweden and I was looking forward to this game. And I scored today so it’s, yeah it’s unreal.”

Make no mistake, Karlsson had his priorities in order about the loss. Asked if scoring against Lundqvist took the sting out of losing, he answered: “I don’t know, I want to win. It sucks to lose. So…”

The Rangers took the lead after the ten minute mark had passed, after being outplayed in most regards by the Sharks. Martin St Louis scored off the faceoff, it was his team’s second shot of the game. Assists went to Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan.

Chris Kreider took an interference penalty at 11:34 of the period. The Sharks’ power play was effective at setting up chances but unable to finish them.

With just under five minutes left in the period, Chris Kreider extended the Rangers’ lead, again right off the faceoff.  The Rangers’ push back was in full swing. Assists went to Dan Girardi and Derek Stepan.

Despite dominating in the faceoff circle (winning 74%) and earning good chances in the offensive zone, the Sharks’ finished the period down by two goals and just one shot ahead of the Rangers.

The second period was going very like the first one, with the Sharks starting well and the Rangers coming back late. The big difference was that the Sharks had given up no more goals. With 3:29 left in the period, Matt Tennyson was called for high-sticking and received a four minute penalty. Almost a minute into that, the Sharks drew a penalty to even things out. Martin St Louis went to the box for interference against Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

With no scoring in the second, the teams finished the second period even in shots on goal. The Sharks penalty kill had not given up any shots to the Rangers’ power play so far.

The Sharks completed the penalty kill to start the third period, but the Rangers did not go away. At 4:24 of the third, a Mats Zuccarello shot ended up in Niemi’s glove but the shot was reviewed at length. That the puck crossed the line, in or out of Niemi’s glove, was probable, but Toronto took their time determining that they could not overturn the call. After the long rest and a bit of good luck, the Sharks had every reason to get back in the game.

That opportunity was amplified with a penalty to Dominic Moore for interference at 5:31. The Sharks power play started inauspiciously with a won faceoff, a stray pass that left the zone, followed by a short handed chance for the Rangers. All of that transpired in the first ten seconds of the power play. The Sharks did get set up after that. After a tentative shot or two, the Sharks dug in. A keep in from Matt Tennyson turned into a pass to James Sheppard along the boards. Sheppard and Karlsson converged on the net and Karlsson scored to cut the lead in half.

Logan Couture was called for holding at 11:58. The Rangers again got credit for no shots on their power play, but the Sharks had one short handed shot that ended with Vlasic and St Louis tangled up in Lundqvist’s net.

In the final three minutes, the Rangers used their time out after a very good shift from the Sharks. The Sharks did not get their mojo back after the time out, and after the Sharks pulled Niemi for the extra skater, Rick Nash was able to ellude the Sharks defense to score the game-clincher.

Patrick Marleau, James Sheppard, Tye McGinn and Logan Couture each had four shots on goal, no Shark had more. Tommy Wingels had the most hits with three. Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the team in ice time with 25:18, while Justin Braun blocked five shots. Antti Niemi made 29 saves on 31 shots.

Rick Nash led New York in shots on goal with seven. Dan Girardi and Jesper Fast each had four hits, no Ranger had more. Ryan McDonagh led the team in ice time with 23:54.

The Sharks next play in Arizona against the Coyotes, at 6:00 PT on Tuesday the 13th.

Stanley Cup Final: New York Rangers Hang On to Win Game 4

By Mary Walsh

The New York Rangers saved themselves from a sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings with a little luck and a lot of persistence. As usual, the Rangers took the early lead, but finally they were able to hold on to it for a 2-1 win. The third period was more harrowing than any we have seen so far in this series, with the Rangers managing only one shot on goal to the Comeback Kings’ 15. After the game, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was asked about that third period:

It was a battle, the whole game. When they turn it up, you need to rely on your teammates and some luck. We’ve been talking about it all series: to beat this team, you need some sort of puck luck and we definitely had it tonight.

The win set a new NHL record, as the Rangers are now 8-0 in elimination games at home since 2008. Lundqvist has been in net for all of those wins.

Wednesday, Lundqvist made 40 saves on 41 shots. At the other end, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick only faced 19 shots and gave up two goals. It was a reversal from Game 3, where the overworked Quick stood on his head for the win and Lundqvist couldn’t catch a break despite seeing far fewer shots. After the game, Lundqvist talked about the team’s mindset:

Whatever happens, we’re winning this game. We’re not losing two at home. We want to get back in this series… it’s not impossible, they’ve done it, we came back from 3-1, but you need to be so smart playing against this team. They’re good and they almost trick you sometimes, you think you have under control and they make a couple of quick plays and create something out of basically nothing.

The Kings were the faster team out of the gate. After five minutes, the Kings had three shots on goal, the Rangers none. The Rangers’ first shot had promise, with Rick Nash going to the net. Derrick Stepan’s shot from the half wall went off of Drew Doughty’s stick and fluttered into Jonathan Quick for a whistle.

A few moments later, the Kings took the game’s first penalty. The Rangers’ power play was very controlled, though they took shots with caution. The strategy did at least keep the puck away from the Kings, but it was almost a minute before the Rangers had a good chance, only to be thwarted by Quick.

The penalty had just expired when New York’s Benoit Pouliot scored with deflected a shot from John Moore at the blue line.

The Kings’ first power play came from a delay of game call, when Anze Kopitar pressured Mats Zuccarello into throwing the puck over the glass. The Kings’ best chance came early in the power play, when a puck crept by Lundvquist but Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman got his stick behind it and swept it out, despite having to compete with Jeff Carter, who was trying to push the puck over the line.

It was a good thing the Rangers scored when they did, because for the last 11+ minutes of the first, their triggers were malfunctioning. They got credit for no shots in the second half of the period. The Kings, meanwhile, kept Lundqvist moderately busy, but they did not beat him in the first.

Over seven minutes and a bundle of penalties had gone in the second when the Rangers stretched their lead to two. A fast zone entry by the Rangers ended with a shot from Derek Stepan that fluttered off of Quick, to be put away by Marty St. Louis.

That got the house jumping, and a little extra zip in the Rangers’ step earned them another power play. The Kings threw themselves into the penalty kill and took a couple of short-handed shots, without straying too far from their own blue line. Lundqvist handled those neatly.

Once the Kings killed off that penalty, they started to chip away at the Rangers’ lead. Kings captain Dustin Brown got by Dan Girardi at the Kings blue line, thanks to a broken stick for Girardi. He was able to carry the puck in mostly unmolested, and beat Lundqvist with a late shot.

That goal seemed to open the floodgates for the Kings. The next few minutes showed the Rangers facing onslaught after onslaught from Kings’ forecheckers. The Rangers did manage to hold the zone finally around the 12 minute mark, and generate a few chances before the puck went out of play.

The Kings then found themselves being pretty effectively ejected from the Rangers’ zone, and were limited to one and dones, while the Rangers at least held the offensive zone for longer than one shot. The Kings’ 70s line of Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter broke that pattern and maintained steady pressure against the Rangers, controlling the puck and peppering Lundqvist with shots. The Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Dwight King line followed up by drawing a penalty that put Dominic Moore in the box for cross-checking.

The penalty kill was made more challenging by another broken stick, this time for Rick Nash. A shot deflected out of play and stopped play before that became much of an issue. After 90 seconds, the Kings’ power play only had one shot on goal. Nash and Stepan were able to kill some time with a short-handed foray to end the penalty kill.

The Rangers missed an opportunity when Quick went behind the net and got tangled up in traffic. The Kings burrowed in and made a shot impossible for the Rangers. Right after that, Jeff Carter broke away in the last minute but this time Lundqvist won the one-on-one contest to keep the Rangers ahead.

The period ended with Los Angeles leading in shots 26-17, 15-11 for the period.

The Kings did not slow down in the third, but the Rangers did not lie down either. Henrik Lundvist had to make some tough saves through traffic in the first ten minutes. One shot from Tyler Toffoli looked dangerous, and it was an expensive shot for the Kings. Marian Gaborik was flattened by Rick Nash behind the net, after getting the puck out to Toffoli.

The Rangers seemed to be repeating the Kings’ third from the last game, clinging to the one goal lead by the skin of their teeth. In the last minutes, Derek Stepan saved a goal by pushing the puck under his goalie with a glove. The referee was in good position to verify that Stepan did not close his hand over the puck.

The Kings pulled Quick in the last 1:11, and an empty net shot from the Rangers’ zone by Brian Boyle went just wide. It didn’t matter, the Rangers held on for the last minute despite some mad scrambles in front of Lundqvist.

Asked whether the team felt like the puck was finally bouncing in their favor, Dominic Moore said:

Definitely when the puck lays on the goal line and doesn’t cross you feel a bit fortunate. But personally I feel like you can’t really think about breaks going one way or the other, you just got to continue to earn your breaks. Hopefully … tonight’s something we can build off in terms of doing some things well and we’ll see what happens next game.

Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers in time on ice with 28:10. Martin St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan each took three shots, and no Ranger took more. Dan Girardi blocked six shots for the team lead. Dominic Moore was the best Ranger in the faceoff circle at 47%.

Tanner Pearson led the Kings in shots with eight. Jake Muzzin led the team with five blocked shots, and Drew Doughty led the team in minutes with 26:45. Justin Williams was pointless for the first time in five games.

Game 5 will be played in Los Angeles on Friday at 5 pm PT.

Stanley Cup Final: Kings Shut Out Rangers in Game 3, Lead Series 3-0

By Mary Walsh

After a 3-0 win in New York, the Los Angeles Kings are the verge of sweeping the New York Rangers out of the the Stanley Cup Final. Two seasons ago, they were in the same position against the New Jersey Devils. They also started that series by winning two overtime games, then winning the third with a shutout. The Devils rallied and won the next two to stretch the series to six games.

Of being up three games to none, Justin Williams said:

Just because you’re leading a series doesn’t mean that you’ve won anything.

The game showed improvement in some areas for the Kings. They skipped the sluggish first period and falling behind early. They showed the defensive prowess they are known for. Jonathan Quick turned in an impressive 32 save shutout in his first game at Madison Square Garden.

Of the mood in the Kings’ room, Williams said:

It’s all business in there. Certainly right now, yeah, we’re happy, we’re up three-nothing. But we know as good as anyone that three-nothing doesn’t mean four and the fourth one’s the hardest and we’re going to be ready for it.

Being ready might have to include generating more offense. The Kings were dangerously outshot, testing their goaltender and defensive resilience. In the second period the Rangers outshot the Kings 17-8, in the third 11-2.

A 3-0 shutout might look like an about-face from the two games they won in overtime, but this game should have been closer on the scoreboard than it was. Two of the Kings goals relied on unlucky bounces off of Rangers players.

The Rangers have to be feeling frustration now, and there was one penalty that could well be a focal point of that frustration. At 14:02 of the third period, the Rangers’ Chris Kreider was called for goalie interference, after pushing Drew Doughty in the direction of Jonathan Quick. Doughty went in to Quick and took him down, but no goal, no good scoring chance resulted.

It was not a completely insane call, but it was wildly inconsistent. It made the non-call against Dwight King even more grotesque, as he scored a goal by falling on Henrik Lundqvist in Game Two. Granted, the calls were not made by the same referees, but it is likely to be a sore point.

The first period was noteworthy for two reasons: the Kings scored first, which is so infrequent that it seemed like a mistake. Additionally, the NHL server was down for most of the period so there were no stats available. Once the server came back up, the officials finally made a call, a coincidence no doubt. The call went for New York but they did not score with the man advantage.

Though the penalty took up most of the time remaining in the period, Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter still managed to squeak an even strength goal in before the period ended. Justin Williams found him in the slot, where Carter put a quick wrist shot past Lundqvist. The shot appeared to go off of Dan Girardi’s skate and the tip of Henrik Lundqvist’s glove. It was an auspicious start for the Kings and another point for Justin Williams.

The second period was littered with penalties. They were called at a rate of about one every three and a half minutes, three against each team. Only the Kings converted, and they only did so once.

Starting with a lead did not put the Kings off their rhythm. As usual, they scored early in the second period again, this time with the help of a power play, giving them a 2-0 lead. This put them doubly in unfamiliar territory, since it is their habit to be on the other side of the two goal lead before they win.

The goal was a little later than usual, a power play goal made possible by Marc Staal being called for high-sticking. The call may have been overdue, as other players, including Staal, had gotten away with some high-sticks already. It took the Kings just under a minute to score. Jake Muzzin threw one in from the point while Jeff Carter screened Lundqvist. New York’s Martin St. Louis tried to block the shot but only deflected it around his goaltender.

The third Los Angeles goal came off a two on one of Trevor Lewis and Mike Richards versus Ryan McDonagh. Richards tried to pas the puck but it went off of McDonagh and came back to Richards. By then, he had the shot and he took it.

The Rangers entered the third period trailing by three, having gone 0-7 in the playoffs when trailing after two periods. That had to be as discouraging as the three goal deficit.

The Rangers did make one change late in the second: head coach Alain Vigneault put Rick Nash on the power play. He started by crashing the net, something the Rangers have not done enough of through the series. The collision did little more than aggravate Quick, who gave Nash a glove to the head for his trouble.

Nash was again on the ice for the Rangers power play early in the third period. The power play as a whole was ineffective, mostly taken up by a game of keep away by the Kings.

Henrik Lundqvist made 12 saves for New York. Derick Brassard led the Rangers in shots with five. Ryan McDonagh and Marc Stall each blocked two shots and no Ranger blocked more, but there were not very many to block. McDonagh led the team in time on ice with 26:56.

Jeff Carter led the Kings in shots with four, Jake Muzzin led in blocked shots with four, and Drew Doughty led in time on ice with 26:03.

Game Four will be played Wednesday  in New York at 5:00 PT.