Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
LOS ANGELES - They fought to the end, showed a ton of heart. But the Rangers got as far as heart can get you in this Stanley Cup Final that ended in double overtime in Game 5 Friday night.
The Kings, champions in two of the last three seasons, have the will. The Rangers were in no mood to think about lessons learned in a solemn, red-eyed visitors' locker room as the Kings celebrated on the ice, but the biggest one the many Final neophytes should take away is this:
You need will to win a Cup.
Heart and effort gets you plenty. The Rangers, of course, have tons of skill, too, primarily in goal, where Henrik Lundqvist could have stolen a few Conn Smythe votes as playoff MVP had he stolen Game 5.
But the Kings are built on will. They wear teams down. And even with three overtime victories in a series that was far tighter than any five-game series could be, the Kings wore down the Rangers, especially in the third periods of games.
"They start taking it to you and it can be hard to get it back," Marc Staal said. "They come hard and it's tough to stop them."
So it was that the Rangers played three games in the Staples Center in this series and had leads in all of them -- including four two-goal leads in the first two games. They rallied in Game 5, the first time they needed to rally in this Final, and two rather pretty goals late in the second showed they were not ready to roll over.
But the third period belonged to the Kings, as it did all series. That's when the will to win takes over. The Rangers retreated, pushed back by wave after wave of black-clad skaters. Lundqvist was brilliant -- he allowed only three third-period goals all series while facing 61 shots in those third periods -- but the Rangers were unable to play the way they had in the opening 40 minutes, especially in the games here.
Those third periods bled into overtimes. The Rangers had just as many chances as the Kings in the 34:43 of OT Friday night, hit just as much iron as the Kings did, but there was that will to push past the near-misses and the fatigue and all the rest.
"They're pretty relentless," said Ryan McDonagh, who played 42:12 of the 94:43 Friday night. "You have to maintain your focus every second . . . We battled. We battled our hearts out."
If only that were enough.
The Rangers displayed a little bit of everything on this magical postseason run, from the physical slog to beat the Flyers to the surprising, emotional rally from 3-1 down to upset the Penguins to a collected, controlled defeat of the Canadiens.
Throughout all that, the Rangers never were the dominant team that forced opponents to submit to their will, aside from perhaps a handful of games, most of them against a loose Montreal team that did not have much structure.
The Rangers went from that to the impeccably structured Kings and they matched them step for step on the scoreboard in all but Game 3, which Staal ruefully said was the team's best game.
What was the difference then?
It's simple: The Kings had the will to win. And so they did.
The Rangers can and must learn from it. They have heart, skill, goaltending -- so many of the ingredients of a champion.
But they could not match the Kings' will, their determination to wear down the Rangers. And their Stanley Cup dreams ended because of it.