LOS ANGELES – Once one acknowledges the presence of the supernatural, the doors open for all types of mystical explanations for different occurrences.
“I've been in the game a long time to know that’s sometimes the hockey gods are there. They were there tonight,” said New York Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault after his team staved off elimination with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Thus the world was safe for conversations about bounces, good fortune and “puck luck” for the Rangers, feeling they didn’t have much of it in the previous three games. And it’s hard to argue with divine intervention when two pucks literally die in their tracks behind Henrik Lundqvist, which would have been the margin of victory in the Kings’ coronation.
Los Angeles, of course, isn’t buying any of it.
“Puck luck is for cop-outs,” said forward Justin Williams. “I don’t believe in it at all. I think you get what you put into it. Last night, we simply weren’t good enough.”
When one team is clinging to anything it can while teetering in the brink, you hear a lot about puck luck and momentum, much like when someone close to death has their “Come To [Insert Deity Here] Moment.” The downtrodden are suddenly true believers; the team one win away from victory professes to be hockey god atheists.
So luck didn’t smile upon the Rangers?
“That’s sports. That’s the way it goes. You work for your bounces, you work for your luck,” said forward Jarret Stoll. “How many times have we seen in the regular season, or any time, when pucks are going off legs and gloves and whatever to go in the net? You have to work to get there. It all works out over the course of the season.”
But two pucks died near the goal line?
“That’s luck," he said. "That’s bounces too. We had to work harder and smarter to get the bounce to go our way.”
Hard hockey was a common rejoinder for the Kings, who got back to Los Angeles at 3 a.m. local time from a flight that featured some great food (“Chilean Sea Bass,” revealed Stoll), some conversation about the game that was and copious amounts of sleep.
They talked about how they didn’t bring their physical game, didn’t win enough battles and didn’t surge ahead enough to cash in on chances, like the pucks that slipped by Lundqvist.
“It’s one game,” said center Mike Richards. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy series. It would have been nice last night, but we know that they have a good team and we have to earn everything.”
Now the Kings have a chance to lift the Cup on home ice for the second time in three seasons. Even if the Rangers have the momentum.
Oh, wait ... Darryl Sutter says there’s not such thing as momentum within a series, either.
“I think the question was asked several times. Asked again last night about momentum. I know it's usually media-created,” he said.
"There's momentum during games and momentum with penalties, momentum with scoring chances, things like that. But if it was always about momentum from game to game, then most series would be over in four and it wouldn't be called four-out-of-seven, it would be the team that won the first game must have the momentum, and the team that won the last game must have all the momentum.”
So just remember: The coach who watched his team rally from an 0-3 deficit to beat the Sharks in Round 1 doesn’t believe in momentum.
Wonder what his counterpart thinks …