NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers know they will have the raucous Madison Square Garden crowd on their side in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals.
The whistle and the bounces? That is a whole other story.
When the Rangers analyze their two overtime losses to the Kings in Los Angeles, they likely will be happy about much of them — other than the result, of course.
New York hasn’t trailed for one second in the nine regulation periods played in the championship round, yet the Rangers return home in an 0-2 hole.
They led by two early in their 3-2 single overtime loss in Game 1 and then had three two-goal edges in Game 2, only to fall 5-4 in double overtime Saturday night.
“We played two good games,” forward Mats Zuccarello said Sunday after the Rangers returned to New York. “We didn’t get the bounces in OT. We’ve got to limit our mistakes. I think we’re a confident group. I think we played the best hockey.
“We’ll have our fans, the best fans in the world, but it’s two good teams. I don’t know how much it’s going to mean. Hopefully the fans are going to be behind us, and we’ll get a good boost.”
The starts were good, the middles provided success, too. The third periods and overtimes have been the difference, and that is what matters. New York was outshot 20-3 in the third period of Game 1 and outscored 2-0 in the final regulation frame of Game 2.
“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.”
Game 3 is Monday night, and is as close to a must-win contest for the Rangers as can be at the Garden, where they are 6-4 in these playoffs.
“Our guys are going to be real focused,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “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, but it doesn’t matter.
“At the end of the day we’ve got to take care of business, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The resilient Kings are doing to the Rangers what they did to the Sharks, Ducks and defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks before them.
If New York wants to avoid the head-shaking those clubs endured after being eliminated in seven games, the story line must change quickly Monday.
It will be one of the hottest tickets at the Garden in years, but the Rangers’ first trip to the finals in two decades could be over in a hurry if their finishes don’t soon match their beginnings.
“It’s hockey. It’s not always fair,” forward Chris Kreider said.
The Rangers have jumped to 2-0 leads in the first period in each game, but Los Angeles never gives up or gives in. New York was 10-0 in these playoffs when entering the third with a lead. The Kings changed that Saturday when they turned a 4-2 deficit into a tie and then won 10:26 into double overtime.
“I think everyone was done with the game this morning. It’s all about the next game,” Zuccarello said. “Most important thing is to look forward.”
The Kings are opportunistic, and they used a favorable non-call to spark their Game 2 comeback.
The Rangers balked loudly at Dwight King’s goal that made it 4-3 at 1:58, claiming it shouldn’t have counted because King prevented goalie Henrik Lundqvist from making a save. New York was penalized for goalie interference earlier when the puck wasn’t in the area of Jonathan Quick’s crease.
King was struck by Matt Greene’s hard drive that found the net and fell onto Lundqvist. Los Angeles gained momentum, tied it on former Rangers forward Marian Gaborik’s NHL-leading 13th goal of the playoffs, and claimed its 2-0 series edge on captain Dustin Brown’s tally.
The Kings have won three straight in overtime without leading in any before the end, and trailing by two goals in each. Los Angeles has been outscored 4-1 in the first period by the Rangers, but the Kings have a 7-2 edge the rest of the way.
“I played some overtime, long overtime before, but obviously three in a row, that’s pretty tough,” Gaborik said Sunday. “We have to correct a lot of things in our game. It’s tough sport to begin with. To play this many periods the last three games, it’s a lot of hockey.
“Everyone is going to find energy tomorrow, and we’ll be ready to go.”
Despite the success, Los Angeles is leery about its slow starts and how long it can count on comebacks. Though the Kings have done it at home and on the road, they are aware they are pushing their luck as they try to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years.
The Kings lost three straight to Anaheim after taking a 2-0 lead, and then won Games 6 and 7 to advance to the Western Conference finals.
“Momentum is a huge part of playoff hockey,” King said. “Once a team has it, it’s important to try to switch the tide in your favor as quick as possible. The longer we go in series, you feel confident.”
Vigneault declared after the opener that his club had to bring its ‘A’ game if it hoped to beat the Kings. The Rangers did, but couldn’t sustain it.
New York has also bounced back in these playoffs. Although the Rangers lost a Game 1 for the first time and are now down 2-0, they did rally from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round to win three straight against favored Pittsburgh.
But 43 of 48 teams that led 2-0 in the best-of-seven finals have won the Cup.
“Our confidence is still there,” forward Derick Brassard said. “If we keep playing the same way, we have a great chance to win. It’s a far way to be over. We came back from 1-3 against Pittsburgh.
“We proved to ourselves that we can come back against some really good teams. We showed to ourselves that we can play with those guys. In both games, they win in overtime. It could go either way.”