LOS ANGELES - On Thursday, the Rangers were back practicing at the rink where the Stanley Cup Final journey began with so much promise.
But their first California trip last week ended with two tough overtime losses to the Kings, consecutive games in which they held four two-goal leads and never trailed in regulation.
Now, after avoiding the first Final sweep since 1998 with a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, the Rangers have a little confidence, an opportunity for some payback and a chance to return the series to New York for Game 6.
"You kind of want some redemption," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "I felt we've played some of our better games here. We had some early leads and let them slip away, so for us, we need to continue to have a good start and this time finish the job."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he is "feeling good about our chances" in Friday night's Game 5. "We've played well throughout the year on the road [25 wins, the most in the Eastern Conference],'' he said. "We just had a two-goal lead [Wednesday] and were able to hang on to it. We know that we can play better than we did [Wednesday]. That's what we're going to try and do."
Henrik Lundqvist didn't play his best in the first two games in L.A., a 3-2 loss in overtime and a 5-4 loss in double overtime, as the Kings had the Rangers flummoxed in the third periods. But he was sensational Wednesday night, making 40 saves with the Rangers on the edge of elimination, as they will be again Friday night.
If the Rangers find themselves leading Friday night, they believe they will have learned some lessons from the first two games. "When you have the lead, you don't want to make mistakes and you're on your heels a bit," Derick Brassard said. "No matter what happens, we need to be on our toes. We need to make strong decisions; when we don't skate, we don't play well . . . We have nothing to lose. I think it's pretty easy to play when you feel like that. We're just going to try to steal a game."
The Rangers are 2-1 in Game 5s this season; the Kings are 1-2, all on the road. Overall, the Rangers are 6-5 on the road; the Kings are 7-4 at home.
To be sure, it has been a strange series, as Martin St. Louis said Thursday: "We outshoot them two-to-one and we lose, they outshoot us two-to-one and they lose . . . We're due for a win in this building. We're looking for things to go our way [Friday night], but we're going to have to earn it. We want to stay alive."
In order to force a sixth game, St. Louis said, "You've got to make plays through traffic, put pucks in areas where we can get to it, because if we just try to get it out without control, they just come back. We found a way [Wednesday], but we know we're going to have to be better."
The Kings, naturally, would love nothing better than to oust the Rangers and celebrate in their house -- and not have to fly cross-country back to Manhattan and the threat that poses.
"I know that if we win [Friday night], they're definitely going to feel the pressure," Lundqvist said. "We were in that spot playing Montreal. The closer you are to your final goal, you tend to think more. It's hard not to, being one game away, being up 3-1. You lose one, you definitely feel the pressure in Game 6. We're looking at [Friday night] as a great opportunity to take this back to New York."