The bell is tolling. After a stirring playoff run, the Rangers are on the edge of extinction.
Led by goaltender Jonathan Quick's 32 saves and a defense that played its best game of the Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings frustrated the Rangers and pushed them to the brink with their third consecutive win, a 3-0 whitewash in Game 3 Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Western Conference champions moved to within a win of sweeping the Rangers, who are playing in their first Final in 20 years. Game 4 is here Wednesday night.
"He was obviously the best player on the ice tonight," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Quick, the Connecticut native who rooted for the Blueshirts when they won the Cup in 1994.
Vigneault said the game was as close to a "must-win" as possible, and the Rangers hoped for a boost at home after two overtime losses in Los Angeles in which they blew four two-goal leads.
Instead, the disappointed crowd grew quieter after 40 minutes. At that point, goals by Jeff Carter, Jake Muzzin and Mike Richards -- all on deflections -- gave the Kings and Quick a hefty cushion.
Teams leading the Final 3-0 have won the series 25 of 26 times since 1939. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were able to climb out of a 3-0 hole.
"You try to stay positive right now, but it's really tough,'' said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 12 saves. "At some point, you are going to need some puck luck, and we don't have any now. It feels like they have all of it . . . It's mentally challenging to try to overcome that first goal."
Carter's shot stunned the Garden crowd into silence with eight-tenths of a second remaining in the first. His wrister from the right circle ticked the skate of a sliding Dan Girardi and went off Lundqvist's glove.
It was the first lead for the Kings in regulation in 3 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds of action dating to Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Mats Zuccarello nearly gave the Rangers the lead at 12:37 of the first. The puck was awkwardly under his feet near the left post, with Quick desperately diving. But the winger's shot hit the post and caromed away.
"We've got to find a way to score goals. Everyone in here is playing their hearts out," Zuccarello said. "I wish I could score on that one; if it's 1-nothing, maybe the game changes. It's frustrating."
In the second, Marc Staal clipped Alex Martinez with a high stick and the Kings cashed in. After controlling the puck along the right wall, Marian Gaborik found Muzzin at the point and his shot deflected off Martin St. Louis and past Lundqvist at 4:17 for a 2-0 lead.
When Willie Mitchell elbowed Zuccarello at 8:13, the Rangers had a chance to cut the gap, but Quick stopped Brad Richards and then Derick Brassard on the rebound.
The Rangers were 0-for-6 with the man advantage. "Regular season, playoffs, Finals -- you have to have your special teams clicking," said Rick Nash, who took eight shots, with four on goal. The Rangers have one goal in 14 power plays in the three games.
The Kings scored their third goal on a fortunate bounce on a two-on-one with 2:46 left in the second. Richards drove down the left side and his pass to Trevor Lewis was blocked by Ryan McDonagh. The puck came right back to him and he beat Lundqvist, who was leaning the other way.
"We spent a lot of time in the o-zone," McDonagh said. "We just couldn't get one to connect. Quick played really well and their D played well in front of him."