Nothing is impossible. The way the Marines put it, “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”
The Rangers’ version of that Marines hymn will have to start Wednesday night at The Garden. Down three games to zip after the Monday night 3-0 defeat, the Blueshirts can only look to one team for inspiration.
To this day, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs remain the only club to lose the first three games of a Final round and then sweep the next four for victory.
Toronto coach Hap Day did it with two of the most dramatic moves in hockey annals. He benched his leading scorer, Hall of Famer Gordie Drillon, and his best defenseman Wilfred [Buckol] McDonald. He replaced Drillon with a fourth-stringer named Don Metz, and inserted rookie defenseman Ernie Dickens in for McDonald. Metz became the scoring star and Dickens excelled as the Leafs stunned the world with their comeback.
Precisely what Alain Vigneault has in mind will be revealed in Game 4. And one thing is certain; at the rate the Kings are playing, the hill the Rangers are climbing has turned into an Everest.
“We felt we had played a real good [first] period,” said Vigneault. “We out-chanced them, 4-1.”
Nevertheless, the portent of negativity was evident in the opening stanza when Mats Zuccarello failed to convert from the edge of the crease. At first, it appeared that he had the go-ahead goal. It didn’t happen, and that was the game.
Then, the Rangers squandered the period’s only power play without an assault on goalie Jonathan Quick. Once again, it foretold the eventual outcome.
And just when it seemed as if the first frame would conclude with a scoreless deadlock, the Kings’ counter-attacked on the back-pedaling Blueshirts. Finding an opening, Jeff Carter beat Henrik Lundqvist at 19:59.
All things considered, the opening 20 minutes proved as anti-climactic as one could imagine for the standing room crowd.
In the second period, LA added two more red lights and the Rangers couldn’t capitalize on three more advantages.
While all of that was going on, the Kings deadened the crowd with goals by Jake Muzzin and Mike Richards. On the power play, Muzzin blasted a shot from the blue line and the puck found its way through traffic, past a bewildered Lundqvist at 4:17 into the period.
The Rangers answered quietly with off-target shots and failed clears, which eventually resulted in a third Kings goal. On a 2-on-1 rush, Mike Richards snapped a crowd-silencing shot past the King at 17:14, virtually sealing the deal.
Darryl Sutter, coaching a near-perfect road game, limited his team’s offense just enough to smother most of the Rangers’ opportunities. And when the Blueshirts did come close, Quick was the acme of perfection through two-thirds of the game and added another shutout-saver, stopping Chris Kreider’s breakaway right off the opening face-off in the third period.
On the bright side, Zuccarello continued to harass the enemy defense, causing another Kings penalty early in the third. Once again, the Rangers’ PP was NG with LA almost scoring shorthanded.
Rick Nash drove hard and often, but to no avail. Brad Richards, after an energetic start, faded as the game evolved.
Inevitably, when the Kings betrayed flaws in their defensive game, Quick remained focused and infallible.
“The fourth one’s always the most difficult,” Quick said. “Nothing’s done; nothing’s finished.”
How can the Rangers solve this daunting Kings equation?
“We had a 5-game win streak,” said Anton Stralman. “We know we can do that again. It’s just a matter of focusing on the next game.”
Perhaps Vigneault will take a leaf from the Hap Day-1942 Maple Leafs handbook and make some dramatic changes in his lineup. Several possibilities include the returning-from-suspension Dan Carcillo, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast.
But the chances are that Vigneault will limit the additions to Carcillo and hope that the breaks start going the Rangers’ way.
There’s only one problem — and his name is Jonathan Quick.