Now that I have been a sports columnist for a couple of days, I feel free to admit that I have great admiration and wonderment at the ability of my brethren to find a "narrative" or a "story line." In a series where the Kings have never led prior to their dramatic game-winning goals and are still up 2-0, I am starting to think the only thesis to sum things up heading into game three is, "Hey, shit happens." Still, that hasn't stopped the armchair goalies from trying to come up with overarching takes on the Stanley Cup so far.
Here are five theories I've heard about the first two games that are totally wrong.
1. The Kings are just too big and tough for the Rangers.
The Kings do seem to be in better shape than the Rangers. They have had one great and one very good third period. No one is talking about the extra days of rest the Rangers had anymore. However, size hasn't mattered here as much many people expected. Hits are pretty even after two games (95-84 Kings) and LA has only blocked a few more shots than the New York (35-32). More importantly, the Rangers little guys have stood pretty tall. Martin St. Louis (5'8") and Mats Zuccarello (5'7") have been great and Carl Hagelin (5'11") has been pretty good. The more physical play of the Kings may be making a difference, it's not slowing down the Rangers much.
2. Slushy ice and mushy boards at the Staples Center have handicapped the Rangers.
Conditions at Staples have certainly contributed to the general craziness of the games and probably have argued for more puck dumping and chasing by the faster Rangers. Still, the slush hasn't slowed up the game enough for it to be the factor that some are saying it is. The Ranger speed still been, well, fast and the slower ice should really benefit a kind of close checking takeaway hockey that the Rangers should want. Lousy ice doesn't help even when you are used to it and bad boards are only useful in the rarest occasion.
3. Quick has been better than Hank in crunch time.
As good as Lundqvist was in the third period in game one, Quick made a huge save in a period where he mostly just watched the action elsewhere on the ice. This kind of mental toughness is part of what makes him worthy of that crusty label "battler." But blaming Lundqvist for the Girardi giveaway in the first game or the deflection goal in the 2nd is crazy considering how many huge saves he had in the second half of both games. Both goalies have save percentages hovering in the .910 area and have bailed out their teams seemingly every other shift.
4. The series confirms West is so much better than the East this year.
The West is better, but this series hasn't proved it - yet. No doubt, that the Rangers would not have had nearly 100 points this year if they had to play the three flying Cali teams rather than getting fat on the two paper thin Pennsylvania teams and the mostly awful Caps and Panthers. Still, the Rangers have shown they can play the 35 shot-a-game style of the West and control the play for big stretches. It does seem the Kings are more comfortable with the zany pace of the first two games (and several of their previous playoff games), but the Rangers have shown they are ok with the track meet too.
5. The Rangers defensemen have been lacking.
This is a bum rap.
OK, let's put the Girardi giveaway to the side. L.A. has coughed up the puck a bunch in this series and the pace of the game has had as much to do with the vision of Ranger coach Alain Vigneault than any softness on the Ranger blue line. It seems like just yesterday we were all marveling at the transformation of the Rangers from a team of reckless shot blockers to one that let its skaters do what they do best. The high-scoring games are probably better for the Kings than the Rangers, but don't blame the defensemen for the rhythm of games one and two.
So, if these explanations are wrong, why are the Kings really winning? It doesn't matter. The instant analysis and explanations will be totally different tomorrow when the Rangers win tonight 3-1.
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