NEW YORK -- Maybe at this point, the New York Rangers should just face it: Desperation suits them more than being front-runners. That has been the thread running through their wholly unpredicted postseason run to this point, through their cliffhanger, seven-game opening series against Philadelphia, their Martin St. Louis-inspired comeback from a 1-3 hole against Pittsburgh, and their dismissal of Montreal.
Then they couldn't beat this Los Angeles Kings team that swarmed into Madison Square Garden threatening to sweep them out of the Stanley Cup finals until they'd been shoved to the edge of the plank Wednesday night.
"I've never been so happy to have a long flight and a time change," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi joked after the Rangers hung on for a thrilling, occasionally frantic 2-1 win that featured some spectacular work by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and some even more spectacular good luck when the puck got by him three times, yet twice stopped dead in its tracks without crossing the red line.
"I've been in the game a long time," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said with weary look after Rangers were outshot 41-19 and still won the game. "I know sometimes the hockey gods are there.
"They were there tonight."
Still, the Rangers weren't just lucky -- they played gritty, relentless, even occasionally chippy hockey. They were very good when they needed to be. And they refused to allow any demons to creep back into their heads after leaping out to a 2-0 lead only to see Kings winger Dustin Brown make their heart skip a beat when Girardi's stick broke. Brown pounced on the loose puck, then came flying in on a breakaway and stick handled from his backhand to his forehand a head-snapping six times before beating a sprawling Lundqvist low on his glove side.
The Kings were on fire after that. The chance to sip from the Cup for the second time in three years was almost within their reach. Both sides had to be thinking of the Rangers' first two losses in this series in which they also leaped out to hope-spiking two-goal leads only to lose both times.
This time, the Rangers didn't snap. They gouged out some breaks for themselves instead. And it started when Quick, who had stoned them for 53 straight shots and over 123 consecutive minutes of play, finally gave up a goal 7:25 into the first period when Benoit Pouliot deflected in John Moore's slap shot from the blue line. When the red light went on, it was as if an electric jolt when through the Rangers.
It went in? It went in!
Then their net-crashing was rewarded again when Stepan took a drop pass from St. Louis and fired a shot that Chris Kreider got a piece of as he drove toward Quick. The puck deflected to St. Louis by the left post, and unlike earlier in the series, he didn't miss. He lifted the puck into the far side of the net, by Quick, for what turned out to be the winning goal.
There was still a fat 30½ minutes to play. But on this night, the Rangers absorbed every rush and scare that the Kings threw at them. And there were a lot.