Maybe Game 1 loss was a blessing in disguise
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
The Rangers can draw upon another 3-2 overtime Game 1 to remind them that Wednesday night's Stanley Cup Final opener is just the beginning of a long haul, not the beginning of the end.
And no, we don't mean Game 1 from 20 years ago, when the Canucks' Greg Adams snapped the OT winner past Mike Richter to give the Canucks the series opener at the Garden.
It's a nice parallel, but only the fans out there remember those neat little coincidences.
No, this is a Game 1 OT of much more recent vintage: The Rangers' win over the Penguins in the second round, a 3-2 overtime triumph that looked an awful lot like Wednesday night's Game 1, except for the outcome.
The Rangers were on the road in Pittsburgh. They were facing a team considered superior by just about everyone. And they jumped out with speed to grab a 2-0 edge in the first period, only to give that lead back by the end of the second.
As mentioned, the biggest difference was that Derick Brassard ended that Game 1 with an early OT winner. The Rangers gained a ton of confidence from that win, proving to themselves that they not only could play with the Penguins but could dictate the pace of the game at times.
And then they stopped doing so for the next three games. Each effort was progressively worse until a sloppy Game 4 loss that took the Rangers to the brink.
Perhaps the lesson of Wednesday night's Game 1, which ended with a bobbling puck, Dan Girardi's giveaway and Justin Williams' winner, will sink in better with a loss.
"We know it's about getting to the neutral zone, not trying to be pretty when there's nothing there,'' said Ryan McDonagh, who was superb in playing nearly half of Game 1. "I think maybe we're pressing, holding our sticks a little too much, too tightly I say, looking for stuff that wasn't there. We know if we get pucks in deep and get our forecheck going, that's where we can generate offense.''
The Rangers likely knew that after winning Game 1 in Pittsburgh a month ago. They knew they were facing a high-powered offense, a team that was accustomed to deep playoff runs and controlling the pace of games. Yet they forgot it all.
Who knows what goes through the heads of players during a series? Winning, taking a lead, there are so many things that can make an athlete relax just that small amount to allow another team to gain an edge.
So perhaps this bad hop, this mistake and this loss will be a strong reinforcement for the Rangers. The Kings are better than the Penguins, but the Rangers are better than they were a month ago, too.
"There's two teams left out there, which means that they both have come a long ways and they both had to be resilient,'' Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "You don't get any award for being resilient.''
Despite the lopsided third period, the Rangers were one bounce away from winning. Carl Hagelin's last-minute breakaway shot hit Jonathan Quick's arm and nearly dropped into the net; if the Rangers had gotten that bounce and that Game 1 win, maybe they'd let up a bit, knowing they escaped.
But they didn't get that bounce; the Kings did. So when the Rangers get back to work Friday, there will be more drive to get even.
Perhaps just what the Rangers needed.