The same cracks that appeared in the Rangers' defense at crucial times in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final resurfaced in Game 4. But with a little more fortitude, they were able to stave off elimination and salvage a 2-1 victory over the Kings on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Defenseman Dan Girardi, whose broken stick led to the Kings' only goal on a second-period breakaway, rebounded with five of his six blocked shots in the third period, when the Kings had a 15-1 advantage in shots on goal. As much as anybody, Girardi understood the Rangers survived on guts, determination and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
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"I've never been so happy to have a long flight and a time change," Girardi said of the Rangers' cross-country trek to Los Angeles for Game 5 Friday night at Staples Center. "I don't think it was our best game of the series by any means, but that's how it's been going for us."
The Rangers scored the first goal for the third time in the series and nearly threw away that lead within a couple of minutes when a puck slipped under Lundqvist and slid slowly toward and onto the goal line. The Kings' Jeff Carter took a poke at it, but his stick was detoured by Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, whose blade flicked the puck away before it crossed the line.
"I saw the puck, and all I tried to do was get the stick out and, obviously, the puck as well," Stralman said. "I got a little lucky and was able to save it."
Stralman succeeded, and the Rangers increased their lead to 2-0 for the third time in four games on a second-period goal by Martin St. Louis.
When Girardi snapped the handle of his stick in the neutral zone, allowing the Kings' Dustin Brown to take the puck on a breakaway and score, it raised visions of the four two-goal leads the Rangers held before losing the first two games in OT. "I thought we were playing a real solid game until then," coach Alain Vigneault said. "That put us on our heels a little bit."
In the third period, the Rangers were skating uphill, putting all the pressure on the defense and Lundqvist to hold the fort.
"We did a good job of battling in front," Girardi said. "They got a lot of traffic. We were doing our best to take away the bodies so Hank could see it clear."
The Rangers survived with the help of another miracle clear by forward Derek Stepan after a shot got through Lundqvist and rolled toward the goal line, then stopped in a pile of snow with barely over a minute to go in regulation.
You can call it lucky, the shakiest of wins. But the Rangers see it as a first step back into the series.
"I think this is a game we can build some confidence on," Stralman said. "It wasn't our best game, but we got the win."
The Rangers learned that lesson in the first two games in Los Angeles, when they felt they had the better of the play but didn't get the result.
"Those two games we played [in L.A.], I thought we played real well," Stralman said. "We have to go in with the same mindset we had. What we did in that second game was to work real hard, put tremendous pressure on their 'D' and feed off their turnovers."