lundi 9 juin 2014

Los Angeles vs New York : Puck luck? Kings masters of the breaks #hockey #nhl #playoffs #rangers #kings

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The topic was luck. Puck luck, hit-the-goalpost luck, go-in-off-a-defenceman’s-skate luck, referee’s-mistake luck.

Craig Simpson tells the story of the 1990 Stanley Cup final in Boston, Game 1, the Bruins and Edmonton Oilers tied 2-2.

“It was the long game, remember?” said Jim Hughson’s Hockey Night in Canada sidekick.
“Sure, the Petr Klima, triple-overtime game,” a reporter said.

“Yeah, well in the second overtime, I was backchecking on, I think, Randy Burridge, and I remember being behind him on the perfect angle to see his shot going toward the net, and I said, ‘S—t, it’s over,’” Simpson said late Saturday evening.

“It was going in, Billy (Oiler goalie Ranford) never saw it coming, and all of a sudden it hit the knob of his stick…”

The conversation had started because of the Los Angeles Kings’ seemingly inexhaustible resourcefulness in winning from behind in these playoffs — coming from 2-0 down in three straight games now, and winning them all, including Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final over the luckless New York Rangers.

But what about the Kings? If the Rangers are luckless, what part of the bigger picture of L.A.’s fairy tale series of comeback wins is played by pure, unadulterated luck?

Reporters are reluctant to give it the credit it deserves now and then, when it is a particularly integral part of turning a key game or even a whole series on its ear.

And it always sounds a little weak when a player or coach on the losing side speaks of luck, so not many go there. But every one of them knows it decides plenty of games.

Two playoff seasons in a row, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews has referred to bounces, and how the Hawks just had to keep grinding on, because sooner or later the bounces were going to go their way.

A year ago, they finally did, in the final against Boston.

This spring, not so much. Not against the Kings, anyway, who won Game 7 of the Western Conference final out of nowhere, it seemed, on a random Alec Martinez shot through a maze of bodies in overtime that struck Chicago defenceman Nick Leddy on the hip and deflected upward, over goalie Corey Crawford, sending the Kings on to the Cup final.

This, after going down three games to none against San Jose in the first round, and trailing Anaheim 3-2 in the second.

And now, they are doing it again — not lucking their way to 4-3 and 5-4 overtime wins in the first two games against New York, exactly, but ….

Think about the odds of Ranger defenceman Dan Girardi losing his balance and falling down, handing the puck to Mike Richards, who changed his mind while heading for the bench and accepted the gift, feeding Justin Williams for the winner in Game 1.

Think about the width of the goal’s frame by which two Rangers failed to score on Jonathan Quick in Game 2, and the two non-calls that went L.A.’s way: the goalie interference on Dwight King’s goal early in the third period, and the puck-over-the-glass by Martinez moments before Dustin Brown deflected Willie Mitchell’s point shot past Henrik Lundqvist in double overtime.

It has happened over and over again. The Kings are being outplayed badly early, then like magic the puck’s in the other team’s net, and they rally.

And they know it’s playing with fire, and they keep on doing it.

“I guess you look at the results, but … are we playing good or are we not?” veteran centre Jarret Stoll said, in a near-confession Saturday.

“Right now we’re doing a lot of things that aren’t in our game, haven’t been in our game for years here. We’re getting away with it, I think, right now. We’ve got to be honest with how we’re playing.”
One man’s luck is another man’s moxie, but what the Kings are doing is historic. They’re the first team ever to win three straight playoff games after being down 2-0. They’re the first team to be up 2-0 in a Stanley Cup final without ever having held the lead. They have not led in their past 229 minutes and 15 seconds, since midway through the third period of Game 6 against Chicago.
That’s no formula for success, and neither is playing the maximum 21 games to get to the Cup final, then going to overtime in the first two against New York.

Both teams looked dead on their feet in the second OT Saturday, and even L.A. coach Darryl Sutter said he was concerned about fatigue.

“Darn right. Thought about it late in the third, and I thought about it in the first overtime,” Sutter said. “Takes its toll. Always does. There’s a lot of guys that played a lot of minutes. It’s like, what have we played, 23 games? That’s a lot.”

By any fair standard, the Rangers ought to have at least split the games in L.A., if not won them both.
They have put the Kings on their heels early with speed and opportunism, forced them to turn over pucks and mishandle routine passes, and like every other team L.A. has faced in these playoffs, they have exposed a shockingly ordinary team defence — shocking, because L.A. won the Jennings Trophy as the league’s top defensive team in the regular season.

“I don’t know what the heck is going on,” admitted defenceman Jake Muzzin. “I don’t know what it is. Having a lot of experience, a lot of belief and confidence that we can come back. And we’ve been doing it.

“Having Quickie in the net helping us when we need him is huge, and gives us momentum and we’ve been able to capitalize.”

But even Quick has been porous by his 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy standards. The same goalie who backstopped the Kings’ run to the Cup with a 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage, allowing just 29 goals in 20 games that spring, is now sitting at a 2.80 GAA, .906 SV percentage and has surrendered 65 goals in 23 games.

The one thing he has done is make timely saves late.

But two games in, this year’s final has been a gloriously error-filled, randomly-played treat to watch, and much like the Kings’ previous series, has featured a spate of end-to-end trading of chances and precious little defence.

“They’ve been in three Game 7s and come out on top. They were Stanley Cup champions a couple years ago. They know what it takes to win. They’re getting those good bounces, those good plays in front,” said Girardi.

“We’re just going to have to find a way to, when we have the lead, to hold on to it. We know they’re going to be coming. We need to be ready for that.”

“We played a much better game than in Game 1,” said Ranger D-man Marc Staal. “We had a lot of chances. We hit a couple of posts, a couple that went cross crease and we were an inch or two away from putting the game away.”

There’s an expression curlers use, and golfers: “We were just on the wrong side of the inch.”
That’s the Rangers, two games into this Stanley Cup final, wondering if the luck really does even out in the end.

Of course, there’s another expression that goes: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
The Kings ought to have that one painted on their dressing room wall. It’s their stock in trade, and the stock is trending upward.