Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
LOS ANGELES - This was a gut punch.
"Down 1-0 [in the series], losing like that . . . It's the worst feeling," Brian Boyle said Saturday night after the Rangers gave back another two-goal lead in this Stanley Cup Final and gave up another overtime goal for a 2-0 series deficit. This one came at 10:26 of the second overtime, as Dustin Brown gave the Kings a 5-4 victory in a game in which the Rangers led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2.
The Rangers have talked often about inspiration. About resiliency. They needed those things just to get here, but now they will need them to flourish like never before as they trudge back across the country halfway to a Stanley Cup Final defeat against a team they have outplayed for long stretches.
The Kings have led on only the final scoresheets of both games, just to rub more salt in the wounds of a spent group of Rangers. In 64:36 in Game 1 and 90:26 in Game 2 -- just over 21/2 hours -- the Rangers led by two goals on four different occasions and have nothing to show for it.
A gut punch for sure. "We didn't stick a fork in them when we had a chance," Boyle said.
There were so many ups and downs in Game 2. Ryan McDonagh had a wondrous first 40 minutes that included a goal, an assist, an angry cross-check to Brown's chest and some Olympic-level skating.
But then he failed to get position on Dwight King on the Kings' controversial third goal. McDonagh tried to poke a puck out of danger later in the third and put it on Marian Gaborik's stick for the tying goal.
And McDonagh did his best to tie up Brown in that second OT, only to have the Kings' captain -- who had a very quiet first two games -- redirect Willie Mitchell's shot past Henrik Lundqvist.
McDonagh's night mirrored the Rangers' night. They were up and then they were down. A 4-2 lead heading to the third period has been automatic for them all season and all playoffs long, yet they wound up staring at one another, wondering how they're down by two games heading back to New York.
"First to four," Derek Stepan said tersely. "That's all it is."
There is bewilderment, anger, you name it. It hasn't been there since after Game 4 of the Penguins series, when the Rangers seemed quietly headed for the playoff exit. But they knew they'd earned that 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh, failing to score in Games 2 and 3 and failing to do much of anything right in Game 4.
These two games in the Final have been different. The Rangers have done enough to win. They had two good starts and two lousy finishes to regulation but still were in two toss-up games in OT. "We played a good game tonight," Alain Vigneault said. "We played well, we gave ourselves a chance to play. We couldn't score . . . Both games we had opportunities. We didn't get it done."
They're not done. If anyone knows that, it's Vigneault. His Canucks won the first two games at home over the Bruins in the 2011 Final but came away empty.
But the way these games were lost may be tough to shake before the puck drops in the Garden Monday night, the first Stanley Cup Final game in New York in two decades.
"It's frustrating," Marc Staal said. "A mistake here and there and we're down."