By Steve Silverman
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So much for the perfect game that was needed as the Stanley Cup Final returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time since that magical night in 1994.
There was great skill in Game 7 of that series against the Vancouver Canucks, but the Rangers also had plenty of puck luck, particularly when Mike Richter made a brilliant late-game save on Nathan LaFayette that allowed the Blueshirts to hold on to the one-goal edge that would eventually give them their first championship since 1940.
There was no puck luck against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 3 on Monday night. The record will show that the Rangers lost 3-0, but they were not outplayed. They dominated for several stretches, but simply could not get the puck by Jonathan Quick.
Henrik Lundqvist was every bit the goaltender that that Quick was, but he did not get any of the breaks.
Jeff Carter scored the opening goal of the game with less than a second to play in the first period. The Kings appeared to be closing out the opening 20 minutes with a harmless rush, but when John Moore inexplicably left the middle of the ice wide open so he could chase Justin Williams to the boards, Carter found himself wide open.
Carter has one of the best shots in the league and he got the puck between the circles and fired his wrister by Lundqvist. The puck deflected off of Dan Girardi on the way.
The goal was largely the result of a poor decision by Moore, but the luck factor was that the shot beat the clock and counted. The Garden faithful had some hope that the goal would be waved off because the green light went on, but the replay made it clear that the Rangers would be nursing a deficit as they went into the locker room.
Jake Muzzin added to the lead in the second period, when his shot from the point on a power play deflected off Marty St. Louis and by Lundqvist. There was nothing the goalie could do about it as he was victimized by puck luck again.
The third Kings' goal was the result of Rangers' desperation and more bad luck. With the defense pinching in the Kings' zone in an attempt to cut into the 2-0 deficit, Mike Richards and Trevor Lewis went in on a 2-on-1 against Ryan McDonagh. Richards tried to pass to Lewis for the redirect, but the puck bounced off of McDonagh.
It came right back to Richards as he was in stride, and he easily put the puck past Lundqvist, who was moving to his left to stop the shot he thought would come from Lewis.
Meanwhile, the Rangers had a number of Grade A chances that could have given them the lead or allowed them to get back in the game. During the first period, Mats Zuccarello, who is looking more and more like the best Ranger in this series, collected the puck on his stick at the goalmouth and tried to shovel a between-the-legs shot into the gaping net. But somehow Quick got the paddle of his goal stick in front of the puck, and the Rangers were denied the lead.
Back-to-back power play chances by Brad Richards and Derick Brassard in the second period were also shuttled aside by Quick. The Kings' goalie later stopped Brassard off of a deft backhander with what again appeared to be the paddle of his stick.
Those saves left the Rangers shaking their heads.
There was one other stellar opportunity that was denied in the second period, but it had nothing to do with luck. Rick Nash had retrieved the puck behind the net and he came out to Quick's left side and attempted to jam the puck home.
There appeared to be plenty of room, but Kings defenseman Drew Doughty tripped Nash. But with the way things are going, if Nash had been attempting to stop Doughty on such a play, the Kings defenseman would have undoubtedly fought through the effort, kept going and found a way to put the puck in the net. But because the Rangers have had less than no luck, Nash went down and lost control of the puck. The tripping maneuver by Doughty worked brilliantly.
So now the Rangers find themselves in a position that foretells doom in Game 4. Except that this is the NHL, which has seen four teams come back from 0-3 deficits to win playoff series.
The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs did it against the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup, and they are the only team that pulled off that feat when the championship was on the line.
The 1975 miracle New York Islanders came back from 0-3 to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers (with current Kings Mike Richards and Carter) pulled off the shocker against the Boston Bruins. Then, just a few weeks ago, these Kings accomplished the feat against the San Jose Sharks.
The Rangers also have an 0-3 comeback in their history, but it was one that saw them tie the series but fall agonizingly short in the seventh game. In 1939, the Rangers trailed Boston 0-3, having lost two of those games in overtime on goals by an ordinary player named Mel Hill.
The Rangers were undaunted, and roared back to take the next three games. One of those wins came in overtime on a goal by Clint Smith. The seventh game, played in Boston, was another overtime game. Once again, Hill ended the competition with his third sudden-death strike in the series.
He is the only player in NHL history to score three sudden-death goals in the same series. From that day forward, he became known as Mel "Sudden Death" Hill.
Check with hockey maven Stan Fischler for confirmation.
So, the Rangers have hope. However, with the way the Kings are playing and how the hockey gods are influencing the outcome, that's all they appear to have.
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