NEW YORK – After pulling himself from the bottom of a pile of players with 1 minute and 11 seconds left in the third period, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty checked the Jumbotron screen hanging over the Madison Square Garden rink.
He watched the puck deflect off the stick of Kings forward Tanner Pearson and slide through the five-hole of Henrik Lundqvist. He watched the puck continue to inch closer and closer to the goal line.
And then he watched it stop, resting on a small hill of ice shavings.
His teammates frantically attempted to poke to puck home to tie the game. Instead, Derek Stepan of the Rangers swept the puck with his glove off the goal line and under Lundqvist to end the threat.
“It sucks,” said Doughty, whose team lost Game 4 on Wednesday night, 2-1, and blowing a chance to sweep the Eastern Confernece champions. “We should have put those in the net. They were just laying right there for us. We just have to be hungrier around there to get pucks by this goalie.”
They say hockey can be a game of inches. The Rangers were literally inches away from seeing their season end during Game 4.
Lundqvist was the Rangers’ last line of defense most of the night, stopping 40 shots. But on two occasions, it was the ice behind him.
What’s incredible about the New York Rangers’ Game 4 victory over the Kings, in which they pushed the series to Game 5 in Los Angeles on Friday night, wasn’t that the puck died near the goal line in the third period. It’s that it did the same thing in the first period, when Anton Stralman cleared the puck as it rested on the red line.
“Thank God for soft ice now and then,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “I've been in the game a long time to know that sometimes the hockey gods are there. They were there tonight.”
Stralman’s save came at 8:10 of the first period, with Los Angeles on the power play. Kings defenseman Alec Martinez fired it, and the puck began gliding near the goal line. Jeff Carter of the Kings had a chance to push it in but missed.
Stralman didn’t, sweeping the puck away.
“It was a quick play on the puck,” said Stralman. “All I tried to do basically was get the stuck out and basically the puck as well. Got a little lucky. It's one of those things you need a little luck to kind of succeed with.”
The other goal-line stand for the Rangers was more chaotic, and featured a heads-up defensive play by Derek Stepan. Had he closed his glove on the puck, it would have been a penalty shot for the Kings.
“That's player instincts, player knowing the rules. Stepan's a real smart player,” said Vigneault.
“I knew I couldn’t put my hand on it, so I just used the side of my glove. (Referee) Wes (McCauley) was right here. He did a great job of being on top of it and being able to see it,” said Stepan.
“Obviously, I just don’t want it to go in the net. I was just trying to do whatever I can to stop it. After I push it back under him, I just don’t know where it’s going or what’s going to happen, so it was kind of a lucky play.”
It’s a word one heard a lot after Game 4: “luck.” The Rangers seemed to lack it in the previous three games, with bounces going in the Kings’ favor. T
hey had it on Wednesday night, especially when it came to the ice behind their star netminder.
“We were that close. If we put those in or tap those in, it’s a whole different hockey game,” said Pearson.