(SportsNetwork.com) – The New York Rangers stayed alive in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals thanks to a brilliant performance from Henrik Lundqvist. However, the Los Angeles Kings will get another shot at winning their second championship in three years when the clubs meet Friday at Staples Center.
The Rangers lost the first three tests of this best-of-seven set, but finally broke through with a 2-1 victory Wednesday in New York.
Lundqvist was the clear star for the Blueshirts, stopping 40 shots, including all 15 in a frantic third period to keep Los Angeles from mounting another comeback win in this series. Martin St. Louis netted the deciding goal early in the second to help the Rangers push the series to tonight’s Game 5 battle in the City of Angels.
Faced with the prospect of being the first team to be swept out of the Stanley Cup Finals since Detroit beat the Washington Capitals in 1998, Lundqvist and his club improved to 11-2 in their last 13 elimination games and 5-0 during these playoffs.
“We didn’t want that Cup out on our home ice. The thought of it makes me sick,” Lundqvist admitted. “It’s about competing, you have to be extremely focused, one mistake and the season’s over. Exciting. Tough, but fun.”
The 32-year-old Swedish starter now owns an 8-0 record, 0.99 GAA, a .968 save percentage and two shutouts in his last eight games when facing elimination at home.
Benoit Pouliot recorded a first-period tally for the Rangers, who hung on despite posting only one shot in the game’s final 20 minutes. Pouliot’s goal ended Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick’s shutout streak at 123 minutes, 1 second.
Dustin Brown scored and Quick made 17 saves for the Kings, who have a chance to celebrate winning their second Cup on home ice since 2012. L.A. beat New Jersey in six games for the crown in 2012. The Kings also opened a 3-0 lead in that series, but lost two straight before lifting the Cup at the Staples Center in Game 6.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot. We wanted to close it out tonight, and we didn’t do it,” said Kings forward Anze Kopitar of being unable to sweep the Rangers. “But now we’re going home, and we’re going to try to close it there.”
In addition to a superb performance from their star goaltender, the Rangers also received the benefit of some “puck luck” in posting the franchise’s first Cup Finals victory on home ice since the clinching Game 7 of the 1994 Finals against Vancouver. Their second one led to the game winner.
During an odd-man rush, Derek Stepan attempted a dish to Chris Kreider in the slot, but his stick shattered and the puck slid off a Kings defender before snaking under a needlessly-sliding Quick. St. Louis wisely stayed in position on the left wing and tapped the puck in from the near-side post at the 6:27 mark of the second period to give the hosts a 2-0 advantage.
Brown halved the Kings’ deficit with 8:46 played on a breakaway, moving past Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi — whose stick shattered at the right point — and beating Lundqvist after several dekes from atop the crease. The score came two seconds after a Tyler Toffoli slashing minor expired.
Los Angeles’ offense seemed to kick into another gear at that point, but Lundqvist stayed calm under the onslaught to prevent the Kings from claiming another win after falling behind 2-0 in a game. The Rangers blew two-goal leads en route to losing both Games 1 and 2 at L.A. beyond regulation, but were able to survive Game 4 with the win.
On two occasions in Wednesday’s game, the puck sat on the goal line behind Lundqvist and went no further thanks to 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.”
The Rangers have won an NHL record eight straight home playoff games when their season was on the line, since Game 4 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Pittsburgh. Detroit (1949-55) and the Montreal Canadiens (1934-40) previously shared the top spot with seven in a row. New York will need to extend that NHL record to win this series, but first it has to survive tonight’s elimination game on the road.
Only four teams in NHL history have come back from down 3-0 to win a best-of- seven set, and only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs pulled it off in the Stanley Cup Finals when they beat Detroit.
The Kings, of course, became the fourth NHL team to come back from down 3-0 when they rallied to beat San Jose in the first round of this postseason.
If the Rangers can stave off elimination again, the clubs will meet Monday in New York for Game 6.