The Rangers are alive, thanks to Henrik Lundqvist and some puck luck.
Trailing in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final three games to none, the Rangers prevented the Kings from celebrating a sweep at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night with a gutsy effort, as Lundqvist made 40 saves in a 2-1 win that forced a Game 5 in Los Angeles tomorrow night.
It was the eighth straight time that the Rangers had won an elimination game, including five times this season, but Lundqvist, now with a 0.98 GAA and .968 save percentage in those eight games, had to rise to the occasion to make it happen.
"Pretty self-explanatory," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "He was the King tonight for us, making huge saves when he had to; we were trying our best to box the guys out and let him see the first one, and not let them get second and third opportunities."
Benoit Pouliot and Martin St. Louis had given the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead -- the same lead they had in Games 1 and 2 on the road when they lost in overtime -- but when Kings captain Dustin Brown scored on a breakaway in the second, things got tense.
"We've had two-goal leads a few times in this series," Dominic Moore said. "Tonight we managed to hold on. Hopefully it's something we can build on."
Pouliot gave the Rangers something to build on with his second of the series when he deflected John Moore's slapper from the blue line under the crossbar at 7:25 of the first, just two seconds after a power play ended. Willie Mitchell had been sent off for a questionable high-sticking on Derek Dorsett. The goal snapped Jonathan Quick's shutout streak at 123:01.
Then came one of the biggest defensive plays, with 8:10 left in the first and Mats Zuccarello in the box for shooting the puck over the glass. Anton Stralman saved what would have been the tying goal, scooping the puck off the goal line behind Lundqvist after Jeff Carter just missed poking it in. Stralman had first inhibited Carter's stick.
As part of coach Alain Vigneault's line shuffling after being shut out in Game 3, the pairing of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and St. Louis paid off in the second. Stepan shot from the left circle and the puck was deflected by Kreider. St. Louis, at the left post, jammed the puck past Quick at 6:27 of the second. It would prove to be the game-winner.
Less than two minutes later, Girardi's blade snapped at the blue line and Brown was off on a breakaway with John Moore in pursuit. Brown deked backhand to forehand and back again and beat Lundqvist at 8:46 to trim the Blueshirts' lead to 2-1.
The Kings stormed the Rangers' net from the opening faceoff of the third period, and outshot them 15-1. In the first 3:42, Anze Kopitar fired wide, Ryan McDonagh blocked Justin Williams' try and Jarret Stoll's tip went wide before Lundqvist stopped Tanner Pearson and Brown. Lundqvist then denied 40-footers from Williams and Pearson.
After Brown's goal, the Kings had 19 shots, the Rangers just two.
The Rangers got some real puck luck late in the third. With 1:11 to go in regulation, Pearson's tip from seven feet away slid slowly through Lundqvist and stopped in the snow just before the goal line. Stepan was able to glove it to safety under Lundqvist.
"I think we deserved that after the bounces in the first three games," Rick Nash said. "Seems like we couldn't get any our way. It showed that our hard work paid off tonight."
The Blueshirt are still down 3-1, but with a little light at the end of the tunnel as Game 5 awaits. "We're not looking at the big picture," Nash said. "We'll just worry about that game. We have to believe; you've gotta have faith."