NEW YORK — The New York Rangers know they will have the raucous Madison Square Garden crowd on their side in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals.
The whistle and the bounces? That is a whole other story.
When the Rangers analyze their two overtime losses to the Kings in Los Angeles, they likely will be happy about much of them – other than the result, of course. New York hasn’t trailed for one second in the nine regulation periods played in the championship round, yet the Rangers return home in an 0-2 hole.
They led by two early in their 3-2 single overtime loss in Game 1 and then had three two-goal edges in Game 2, only to fall 5-4 in double overtime Saturday night.
The starts were good, the middles provided success, too. The third periods and overtimes have been the difference, and that is what matters. New York was outshot 20-3 in the third period of Game 1 and outscored 2-0 in the final regulation frame of Game 2.
Both teams spent Sunday flying to New York before Game 3 on Monday night.
“The series isn’t over yet,” said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who had a goal and assist in the first period and logged a team-high 37:48 of ice time in Game 2. “They’ve got a 2-0 lead, but we’re going home. We’re excited. We’ve got to use our crowd.
“We’ve got to start Game 3 at home having a good approach, keep staying with it, keep believing.”
The resilient Kings are doing to the Rangers what they did to the Sharks, Ducks and defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks before them. If New York wants to avoid the head-shaking those clubs endured after being eliminated in seven games, the story line must change quickly Monday.
It will be one of the hottest tickets at the Garden in years, but the Rangers’ first trip to the finals in two decades could be over in a hurry if their finishes don’t soon match their beginnings.
“A couple crazy bounces, a couple crazy plays,” Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. “Stuff goes in for them, stuff doesn’t go in for us. It’s hockey. It’s not always fair.”
They have jumped to 2-0 leads in the first period in each game, but Los Angeles never gives up or gives in. New York was 10-0 in these playoffs when entering the third with a lead. The Kings changed that Saturday when they turned a 4-2 deficit into a tie and then won it 10:26 into double overtime.
“They come out flying in the third, and it was 10-12 minutes where they put some pressure on us,” New York defenseman Marc Staal said. “They’re a team that capitalizes on their opportunities.”
One of those started Los Angeles’ latest third-period comeback.
The Rangers balked loudly at Dwight King’s goal that made it 4-3 at 1:58, claiming it shouldn’t have counted because King prevented goalie Henrik Lundqvist from making a save. New York was penalized for goalie interference earlier when the puck wasn’t in the area of Jonathan Quick’s crease.
King was struck by Matt Greene’s hard drive that found the net and fell onto Lundqvist. Los Angeles gained momentum, tied it on former Rangers forward Marian Gaborik’s NHL-leading 13th goal of the playoffs, and claimed its 2-0 series edge on captain Dustin Brown’s tally.
“We played well,” frustrated New York coach Alain Vigneault said. “We gave ourselves a chance to play. They’re a good team. We had some looks in overtime, just couldn’t score.”
The Kings have won three straight in overtime without leading in any before the end, and trailing by two goals in each. Los Angeles has been outscored 4-1 in the first period by the Rangers, but the Kings have a 7-2 edge the rest of the way.
“We’re doing a lot of things that haven’t been in our game for years. We’re getting away with it,” said forward Jarret Stoll, who scored the Kings’ first goal in Game 2. “Don’t get me wrong, we did a lot of good things to come back, down 2-0, down 4-2. Resiliency to come back and battle and push and pull everybody into it, battle for that tying goal and the winning goal again.
“We’ve got to be honest with how we’re playing. We know we’ve got more.”
Despite the success, Los Angeles is leery about its slow starts and how long it can count on comebacks. Though the Kings have done it at home and on the road, they are aware they are pushing their luck as they try to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years.
“We’ve been through a lot of emotional ups-and-downs,” Brown said. “We’re a confident group that can sort it out and figure it out. We’re aware of the type of team we are, and how good we can be.
“It’s just a matter of resetting, reloading and dialing it in for Game 3.”
Vigneault declared after the opener that his club had to bring its ‘A’ game if it hoped to beat the Kings. The Rangers did, but couldn’t sustain it.
New York has also bounced back in these playoffs. Although the Rangers lost a Game 1 for the first time and are now down 2-0, they did rally from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round to win three straight against favored Pittsburgh.
But 43 of 48 teams that led 2-0 in the best-of-seven finals have won the Cup.
“If you don’t win the game, you didn’t do what you need to do,” Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. “That’s the worst feeling there is.”