NEW YORK (AP) — Even in the second round, when the New York Rangers had to rally from a 3-1 deficit against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins to reach the Eastern Conference finals, they never found themselves this far behind this early in a series.
Down 2-0, and almost down and out before they even got home to Madison Square Garden.
That is the hole the Rangers are in after a pair of overtime losses in Los Angeles to the Kings. The outcomes would have been bad enough for the Broadway Blueshirts in their first finals appearance since winning the Cup 20 years ago, but how they lost only adds to their disappointment.
The Rangers led 2-0 in the first period of both games, and they were up by two goals three times in Game 2 — including a 4-2 edge heading into the third period Saturday night. New York was 10-0 in the postseason when holding the lead after 40 minutes.
That loss has the Rangers on the brink of a quick exit unless they can turn things around in a hurry Monday in Game 3.
“Our guys are going to be real focused,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Sunday after the team’s cross-country flight home to New York. “We need to hold serve. We’re back in our building. We’ve played some good hockey. We might feel that we deserve a better outcome than what we have right now, which is trailing by two games, but it doesn’t matter.
“We’ve got to take care of business (Monday), and that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve got to win.”
The Kings aren’t thrilled that they were forced to erase two-goal leads in three straight games to win in overtime, dating to their victory in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at Chicago.
Yet comebacks have been Los Angeles’ preferred method throughout the playoffs: rallying from a 3-0 deficit in the first round against San Jose and a 3-2 hole to eliminate the defending champion Blackhawks.
They even came back from another 3-2 deficit in the second round against Anaheim, after dropping three straight following a 2-0 start.
“You’re never not of the belief that you can’t come back or you’re not going to win,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Sunday upon arriving in New York. “We’ve played a lot of hockey in May and June over the past three seasons.”
Now they will look to carry their success into Madison Square Garden on Monday night. Here are five things to watch for in Game 3:
PLAYING FROM BEHIND: The Kings are in a most enviable position, holding a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals, yet they have gotten there unlike any team before. They are the first to win three consecutive playoff games after trailing by two goals. They also have four multi-goal comeback victories in these playoffs. That hasn’t happened since Philadelphia earned five such wins in 1987, the NHL said, citing the Elias Sports Bureau.
“We’re not proud of the way we’re starting games,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “We find ourselves in the same situation, regurgitating the same mumbo-jumbo every time. We’re in a results-oriented league. The results are we’re up 2-0. I don’t care how we got here.”
Teams that won the first two finals games at home are 32-3. Overall, since the finals went to a best-of-seven format in 1939, 43 of 48 teams that led 2-0 claimed the Cup.
COMING HOME: Marian Gaborik leads the NHL with 13 playoff goals this year, just two shy of the Kings’ record of 15 set by Wayne Gretzky in 1993. Gaborik netted the tying tally in the third period of Los Angeles’ 5-4 double-overtime victory over the Rangers in Game 2, and will be looking to do more damage in his first return to Madison Square Garden since being traded by New York to Columbus in 2013 after four seasons on Broadway. He scored over 40 goals twice with the Rangers and got as far as the Eastern finals in 2012.
“Definitely the building has a lot of history,” Gaborik said of the Garden. “Everybody that goes and plays there, it has that extra jump. Just to look around the building itself, it has some sort of an energy that you want to be in there and you want to just play. A lot of our guys, the whole team, will have that energy. We’re going to come out strong.”
RICHARDS’ REGRESSION: Rangers forward Brad Richards, who has emerged as the team’s symbolic captain although no one has had that distinction since Ryan Callahan was traded in March, has struggled. He followed a sub-par opening game with a poor performance in Game 2, when he was a minus-3 and committed a turnover that helped the Kings cut the deficit to 2-1 in the second period. But for now there is no sign that Richards might get benched as he was in last year’s postseason by former coach John Tortorella.
GETTING TIRED: The Los Angeles Kings played a record 21 games in the first three rounds of the playoffs, with overtime sprinkled in the past three games. So there is no question they are tired, but defenseman Drew Doughty is likely the most worn out. The stellar blue-liner logged a game-high 41 minutes, 41 seconds in Game 2.
If the Kings are seeking a fresh addition to the lineup they could turn to defenseman Robyn Regehr, who is close to returning after missing 15 games since May 3, when he injured a knee in the second-round opener at Anaheim.
PLAYING LATE: For the third straight year, the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals have required overtime. Before 2012, it hadn’t happened in 61 years. There have been 25 overtime games in 80 games played this year’s playoffs, and road teams are 14-11. The record for one year is 28, set in 1993.
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