The Los Angeles Kings took advantage on a trio of favorable bounces and stellar play from a goalie who grew up rooting for the New York Rangers to move one win away from a Stanley Cup title.
Jonathan Quick made 32 saves and the Kings scored three times -- each aided by a deflection off a New York skater -- en route to a 3-0 shutout of the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. New York outshot the Kings 32-15, but was unable to solve Quick in the first Stanley Cup finals game at MSG in 20 years.
Los Angeles now has a 3-0 series lead and can clinch its second National Hockey League title in three years with a win in New York tomorrow night.
“We’re a team that plays a lot different when we have the lead,” Kings forward Mike Richards said after the game. “We play with confidence, we don’t sit back, we just keep pushing. I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
After rallying from 2-0 deficits to win both Games 1 and 2 at home, the Kings left little doubt last night in front of a soldout crowd. Secondary market tickets for the game sold for an average of $1,558, according to aggregator SeatGeek, about three times resale prices for Game 1 in Los Angeles.
Quick was born in Milford, Connecticut, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of New York City. The 2012 NHL playoffs Most Valuable Player, Quick said he grew up watching the team but didn’t feel any added jitters making his first career NHL start at MSG.
“It’s the most fun to play in these types of games and these types of environments,” said Quick, who lives in Connecticut during the offseason. “Whether you win or lose, these are the games you want to play.”
Quick played his best on the Rangers’ six power plays, including a reflex save on Rangers forward Derick Brassard with 10 minutes remaining in the second period to preserve a 2-0 lead. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault called Quick “obviously the best player on the ice tonight.”
“Give them credit,” Vigneault said after the game. “They found a way to put the puck past a real good goaltender and we couldn’t do it.”
The Rangers had plenty of chances on offense, but couldn’t beat Quick, who recorded his second shutout of this postseason. New York forward Mats Zuccarello was unable to stuff in a puck on the goal line with the score tied 0-0 in the first period, and Rick Nash was hooked from behind on an open wraparound attempt midway through the second period. On the ensuing power play, the Rangers took two shots but were unable to score.
“You’ve got to finish in this game,” Vigneault said.
Fatigue doesn’t appear to have set in for the Kings, who before last night had played three straight overtime games. Los Angeles’ 24 playoff contests this year are the maximum possible at this point in the playoffs, and the team won all three previous series in Game 7s on the road.
Kings forward Jeff Carter opened the scoring last night with less than a second remaining in the first period, beating Henrik Lundqvist on a shot that deflected off the skate of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. The goal, upheld on review, went in with 0.7 seconds remaining on the clock and silenced the crowd.
It also ended a stretch of 249 minutes, 14 seconds -- more than three complete games -- where the Kings hadn’t held a lead, going back to Game 6 of their conference finals series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Los Angeles lost that game, then played from behind in three straight overtime victories.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn’t want to talk about the unusual stretch. When asked what it felt like to finally hold a lead during the series, he replied, “We’re used to it” and moved on to the next question.
Jake Muzzin put the Kings up 2-0 with a power-play goal 4:17 into the second period. The shot redirected off Martin St. Louis on its way past Lundqvist.
With less than three minutes remaining in the period, Richards put the Kings up 3-0. Richards had a wide open net after a pass across the goal crease hit Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and bounced back to his stick.
“At some point we are going to need some puck luck and we don’t have any right now,” Lundqvist told reporters. “We can sit here and say we’ve played really well, but at the end it’s about finding ways to win, and we haven’t done that.”
New York fans remained behind the team until about halfway through the third period, when a failed Rangers power play drew the night’s first boos. Fans cheered when the PA system announced there was one minute remaining in the game.
Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the team, generates about $3 million in revenue and $1 million in operating profit from each Rangers home game. While winning the series would do little to affect the company’s bottom line, it will miss out on a final payday if the Kings wrap up the series before it returns to New York for Game 6, scheduled for June 16.
Since the NHL went to a best-of-seven finals in 1939, 26 teams have taken 3-0 series leads. All but one of those teams went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“The fourth is always the hardest,” Quick said of the final victory. “We still have a lot of work to do.”