2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four

King Henrik saves the Rangers, who ‘get another chance to play’

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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.”

NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

(If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

Atlantic Division rankings

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

Bruins – 64 in 58
Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Sabres – 62 in 59
Lightning – 58 in 57
Red Wings – 56 in 58

From a wild card perspective

Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Islanders – 62 in 57
Sabres – 62 in 59
Flyers – 61 in 58
Devils – 60 in 58
Lightning – 58 in 57
Hurricanes – 56 in 54
Red Wings – 56 in 58

Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

“This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

“What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.

Add allowing center-ice goal to Brian Elliott’s rough season

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So far, there’s just one goal in tonight’s Calgary Flames – Vancouver Canucks game. And it wasn’t a good one.

The Canucks couldn’t manage a shot on goal for more than half of the first period, maybe putting Brian Elliott to sleep … as Alexander Edler scored the 1-0 goal from center ice on Vancouver’s first shot that actually got on net. Ouch.

It’s already been a tough season for Brian Elliott, who came into Saturday with an .898 save percentage.

Elliott was perfect through the rest of the first two periods, so we’ll see if Calgary can overcome that gaffe.

Update: The Canucks ended up winning 2-1 in overtime. Ryan Miller was the better of the two goalies in this one.