Rangers must refine tactics against patient Kings

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Anton Stralman of the Rangers checks Kyle Clifford Anton Stralman of the Rangers checks Kyle Clifford of the Los Angeles Kings in the second period during Game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at the Staples Center on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

LOS ANGELES - Alain Vigneault's desire for the Rangers' "A'' game certainly was noticed by his players.

"Oh, sure," said Rick Nash, who might have been one of those Rangers whom Vigneault cited, without naming names, as having a "B'' game during Wednesday night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Kings. "We didn't have our best game as a team."

No coach is going to single out any of his players for playing poorly in a Stanley Cup Final -- well, perhaps Michel Therrien might have called out Thomas Vanek one more time had the Canadiens made it -- and Vigneault didn't identify whom he was talking about in his pointed remarks on Thursday.

There's another reason beyond simple kindness that Vigneault didn't single out anyone: These Rangers don't need heroes here and there to step up in Game 2 Saturday night. They need everyone.

And it's not necessarily heroics at all times, either. Ryan McDonagh, as sharp a player as any in the league, said the Rangers not only need to be better Saturday night but smarter.

"This team isn't like any we've faced before in the playoffs," McDonagh said after the Rangers practiced at Staples Center on Friday. "They're so patient. They have no interest in playing a run-and-gun style like we've seen from a couple teams before. That makes you feel like, at times, you've got to make something happen. But you have to make the smart play, the chip off the wall or the dump-in, and live to fight another day."

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The Kings are clogging the NHL's playoff scoring leader board. They have shown their ability to trade chances with the Blackhawks, Sharks and Ducks to the tune of 73 goals in 21 games heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

At heart, though, they are a big, grinding team. They wait for mistakes and pounce, or throw pucks to the net from everywhere and charge. Nearly all of their 20 shots in the third period of Game 1 were from the less dangerous areas of the ice.

So this is more chess match than home run derby for the Rangers heading into Game 2.

Their "A'' game against the Canadiens may have been to dominate puck possession and stretch Montreal's paper-thin forecheck to create odd-man rushes. Their "A'' game against the Kings appears to be something altogether different. Play with speed and play with the puck, yes, but also play with intelligence and do not let the Kings outwit them.

"You want to create good situations that occur from simplicity," McDonagh said. "We were making a lot of our line changes after just getting pucks out of our zone. We want to change on the forecheck, roll over our lines one guy at a time to maintain that possession, and wear them down in their zone."

The Rangers did create quite a bit, mostly off the rush. The mistakes the Kings made were very out of character for them, giving up three breakaways and a pair of two-on-ones.

So not only will the Rangers have to be better and smarter, but they're aware that the Kings might not be so generous in Game 2. That only ups the requirements for the Rangers, who have shown this postseason how capable they are of responding to the specific attributes of each opponent.

"If we won that game in overtime, we're still having the same meeting probably today, the way the game went," Brad Richards said. "Sometimes you don't win a game, you have to realize where you are. We have to expect they're going to be a lot better. We have to be better or you're going to be down 2-0. It's this time of year. You get one crack at it. You've got to raise it. There's no other option."

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