NEW YORK — Derek Stepan didn’t want anyone to “fool” themselves. Yes, the New York Rangers beat the Los Angeles Kings. Yes, they finally got some puck luck. And yes, they’re still alive in the Stanley Cup Final. But if not for Henrik Lundqvist, this thing would be over. The Kings would be champs for the second time in three years, and they’d have celebrated on the ice at Madison Square Garden.
“Hank stood on his head,” said Stepan. “He made some big saves at big times for us. Those are the big plays we need at certain moments to keep the momentum or shift the momentum. Hank stood tall and he’s a big part of why we’re going back to L.A.”
Mats Zuccarello took it one step further: “We probably play our worst game of the series and we win.”
Added Dan Girardi: “It was pretty self-explanatory out there. He was the King tonight for us, making huge saves when he had to.”
As for the man himself?
“Well, I felt good tonight,” Lundqvist said. “I must say, I felt pretty good in every game. It’s just tonight, we had the bounces. We talked about it the first couple games where, you know, especially against this team, you need that little extra puck luck. They play a lot around the net, a lot of deflections, screens. Sometimes it’s going to hit you and sometimes it’s not. You have to keep telling yourself you’re doing the right things. So that’s what I did.”
Lundqvist made 40 saves on the night, including 15 in the third period when his teammates managed just one on the other guy. Only Kings captain Dustin Brown could beat “the King” in Game 4, on a breakaway (thanks to Girardi’s broken stick) in the second period that made it 2-1 for the home side.
That’s right — if not for their star goalie, the Rangers, in all likelihood, would’ve blown their third 2-0 lead of the series.
“Yeah, I’m not going to lie. The first thought was, ‘Here we go again,'” said Lundqvist. “I guess the important thing was to respond the right way. They had a couple chances right after to make saves right away.”
“He had to make some huge saves in the second and the third,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “He got and we got a few bounces. You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a little bit. … We get another chance to play. We’re going to be ready for it.”
The challenge, obviously, remains immense. The Rangers still need to win three more — two on the road — without a loss. And the Kings are still the Kings. They’ve been through this before. Nobody’s expecting them to panic.
“We’re going back home, that’s where we won it last time,” said Drew Doughty. “Hopefully we can do the same thing again.”
And they’ll be favored to do just that on Friday at Staples Center. But with Lundqvist, and a little luck, there’s that sliver of hope for the Blueshirts.
“He just competes,” said Stepan. “That’s one thing I’ve learned about Hank, that he never seems to stop competing. He loves to win and he hates to lose.”
“We have to believe,” said Rick Nash. “You got to have faith and you have to believe in your system and in our process. It’s so cliché, but we just have to play it game by game and just worry about another win.”