Discover: Road to the Cup – the finals thus far

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The Los Angeles Kings made history before this series even began by going to Game 7 in each of their first three series and winning every time. They developed a reputation for their resiliency, but the New York Rangers arrived to the Stanley Cup Final under similar circumstances.

They played in just one less game than the Kings over the first three series and overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins along the way.

When these two teams finally collided though, it was the Kings’ ability to bounce back that trumped the Rangers’. New York established a 2-0 lead in Game 1 and 2, but in both cases Los Angeles rallied back to win in overtime. With that, the Kings had a 2-0 series edge without leading at any point in the series.

“We can’t take any solace [in two close games] because we lost,” Rangers forward Brian Boyle insisted after the team’s second setback.

“We came here to win games. It doesn’t matter how the hell we do it, we have to win the game. If you don’t win the game you didn’t do what you came to do and that’s the worst feeling there is.”

Game 3 was a different beast as the New York Rangers got power-play opportunity after power-play opportunity, but Jonathan Quick was at his best, stopping 32 shots to lead Los Angeles to a 3-0 victory. The Kings stretch without holding the lead in a playoff game ended at 249:14 minutes, per LA Kings Insider.

With the New York Rangers on the brink of elimination, it was their chance to show what they could do in the face of adversity. New York took a 2-0 lead for the third time in this series and actually managed to hold onto it. They had luck on their side, as on two separate occasions the puck stopped moving just before the Rangers’ goal line, but Lundqvist also had a great game, stopping 40 of 41 shots.

The Rangers set an NHL record by winning their eighth straight home game when facing elimination. Lundqvist had a 0.99 GAA and .968 save percentage in those eight contests, according to NHL.com.

Los Angeles still has a commanding 3-1 lead and more than enough talent to finish off this series, but that doesn’t mean the finals are as good as done either. The Kings have suffered from slow starts against the Rangers and while they’ve managed to overcome that most of the time, it burned them in Game 4 and that might happen again if they allow New York to have any life early in Friday’s contest.

Although the Kings still have three chances to win, this game is important to them. If they can’t finish the Rangers off tonight, then the series will return to Madison Square Garden where the Rangers will attempt to extend their record-breaking streak. If New York is successful, then there will be a Game 7 and all bets are off at that point. In other words, even if Game 5 isn’t the Kings last chance to bury the Rangers, it is their best one.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski