New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Faced with the prospect of their Stanley Cup dreams officially coming to an end, the New York Rangers finally figured out how to protect a two-goal lead against the relentless Los Angeles Kings.
It turns out Henrik Lundqvist was the answer all along.
The man known as "The King" was hardly the reason the Rangers dropped two-goal leads en route to losing both Games 1 and 2 beyond regulation. He also was the victim of some unfortunate bounces in Monday's 3-0 loss in New York, but Lundqvist finally played his first great game of the Stanley Cup Finals in Game 4 with his team's season on the line.
Although the Rangers managed to stay alive, surviving Game 4 was anything but easy.
From the time Martin St. Louis scored to give New York a 2-0 lead at 6:27 of the second period until the final buzzer sounded, Lundqvist hoisted his team upon his shoulders to keep the Kings from pulling off another remarkable comeback. His performance gave the Rangers their first win in the Cup Finals since claiming Game 7 of the 1994 championship round against Vancouver and also prevented Los Angeles from celebrating a title at Madison Square Garden .
"We didn't want that Cup out on our home ice. The thought of it makes me sick," Lundqvist said.
Lundqvist made 40 saves to send the series back to Los Angeles, where these clubs will reconvene for Game 5 on Friday night. However, if the Rangers want to make it back to New York for Game 6 on Monday, they'd better find a way to give their goaltender a little more help.
L.A. outshot the Rangers 30-12 over the second and third periods of Game 4 and the Kings registered 15 of the 16 shots taken over the final 20 minutes. When Dustin Brown answered St. Louis' goal just over two minutes later with a breakaway tally of his own, it seemed we were about to see a repeat of the first two games at Staples Center, but this time the tying goal never came.
The victory improved New York's record when facing elimination to 11-2 dating back to the 2012 postseason. The Rangers are 8-0 in such games at Madison Square Garden since 2008, with Lundqvist earning the victory in each of those contests while posting a 0.99 goals against average and a save percentage of .968.
Although it seemed like it for large stretches of the game, Lundqvist wasn't completely alone on Wednesday. In addition to St. Louis' game-winner, the Rangers also received a first-period tally from Benoit Pouliot to grab the early lead.
The Rangers also were the beneficiaries of some fortunate breaks, as some of L.A.'s luck from Game 3 shifted over to the New York side. On two occasions, the puck sat on the goal line behind Lundqvist and stayed there with a little help from his teammates.
Midway through the first period, Jeff Carter had a prime chance to knot the score at 1-1 when a puck trickled between Lundqvist's pads and headed for goal. Carter, however, failed to connect on his first chance and Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman was able to clear the disc out of harms way before the Kings forward could get a second crack at it.
With time winding down in the third period, the situation repeated itself. Only this time, a bit of snow on the ice and the glove hand of New York's Derek Stepan saved the day. The puck found its way between Lundqvist's pads again and slowed down just before the goal line when Stepan swept it out of danger with his fingertips.
"It's not easy. The stress level is a little high obviously when the puck is laying there on the goal line," said St. Louis. "We had a little puck luck tonight. And you take those."
After watching two goals hit off his own players before beating him on Monday, Lundqvist and the Rangers had the bounces on their side in Game 4. As a result, the Detroit Red Wings remain the last NHL team to a earn a sweep in the Stanley Cup Finals with their four-game win over Washington in 1998.
While the Rangers escaped the indignity of being swept out of the final round, it's going to take a great effort from everybody to pull off a miraculous comeback from down 3-0 in the series. Lundqvist is always capable of playing at a high level, but to expect him to steal every game like he was able to grab Game 4 is not an option.
The odds of the Kings winning their second Cup crown in three seasons are still tremendous. If New York sits back and relies on its goaltender to win another game on Friday the only thing the Rangers did in Game 4 was prolong the inevitable and give L.A. an opportunity to celebrate winning another title on home ice.
With their backs placed firmly against the wall, survival is the only result that matters now for the Rangers.
"It wasn't our best game," said Stralman. "But at the same time we got the win and that's what we needed."
If they leave everything up to their goaltender again on Friday, there's a good chance they won't get a chance to fight another day.