Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist steals Game 4 vs. Kings

June 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

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It was understood by the New York Rangers that if they were going to out-perform the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final, they needed goalie Henrik Lundqvist to be the best act in their circus.

They needed him to steal a game, maybe two, to have a reasonable chance to defeat the streaking Kings.

King Henrik earned one of his steals Wednesday when he made 40 saves to down the Kings 2-1 to keep the Rangers’ championship hopes dimly lit as the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Friday.

“We believe in him,” said Rangers winger Martin St. Louis. “He’s a big reason why we are here.”

Still trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers probably will need Lundqvist to perform like a Conn Smythe Trophy winner to have a chance to rally in this one. They are trying to become the first team in 72 years to erase a 3-0 series deficit in the Final to win the Cup. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the last team to successfully follow that path to the championship.

If anyone is capable of that feat, it’s Lundqvist, who has played impressively well when the Rangers have faced elimination this spring.

“I think he elevates his game every single night,” Rangers forward Rick Nash said.

After last game, Lundqvist had said the Rangers needed to find some “puck luck.”

They found it in Game 3. Twice in the game, the puck leaked through Lundqvist and slid to a stop on the goal line, the last time coming with 1:11 left in regulation.

Were the Rangers lucky?

“Absolutely,” said Rangers center Derek Stepan, who swept the puck under Lundqvist after it stopped in a tiny pile of snow.

On the first one, Kings forward Jeff Carter whiffed on a chance to knock it home and Anton Stralman swept the puck out of the crease.

“(Lundqvist) got and we got a few bounces,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a little bit.”

The odds remain against the Rangers: Teams that have taken a 3-0 lead in the Final are 25-1 in league history.

To stay alive, the Rangers stopped the Kings’ nine-game streak of scoring three or more goals. They had been averaging better than four goals per game during that stretch. Lundqvist held them to one goal on a night when his team mustered only 19 shots on goal.

“He’s been our best player throughout the whole playoffs, our most consistent player,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.

The Rangers had trouble generating offense, but they were gritty around their net.

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“I don’t think it was our best game of the series by any means,” Girardi said. ‘They got a lot of traffic, a lot of guys in front. We were doing our best to take bodies away so Hank could see it clear.”

Early in the third period, the goalie calmly out-waited Dustin Brown to stop him on a shot from just in front of his crease. Lundqvist was the prince of poise in this contest. He offered no hint that his team was in the midst of an elimination game. Shots went to his midsection and died instantly. He offered no rebounds. He gave the Kings almost no hope.

It was a strong outing by Lundqvist who had spent three games watching Kings goalie Jonathan Quick playing the role of hero, particularly in last game when he posted a 3-0 shutout

The New York team has some advantage against Los Angeles, particularly in the speed department. Lundqvist was also hotter than Quick coming into the series, although that has changed.

Unquestionably the Rangers understand that they will have to play much stronger in Los Angeles if they want to take the series to a sixth game.

They undoubtedly will need Lundqvist to be better than Quick – and that isn’t an easy assignment.

“Anytime I put Henrik in goal,” Vigneault said, “I know I have a chance to win.”

Why do great NBA teams always have Big 3 star trios?

June 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Magic, Kareem and Worthy.

Bird, McHale and Parish.

Jordan, Scottie and Horace. Or Jordan, Scottie and Rodman.

Pierce, Allen and Garnett.

LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

And of course, Tim, Tony and Manu, who became the winningest trio in playoff history this postseason and now have 115 playoff victories together after the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 3 victory against the Miami Heat.

As much as outstanding individuals, the past three decades of the NBA have been distinguished by the dominance of star trios and the championships those Big 3 groups have accumulated.

Since 1981, Big 3s have played a part in 18 championships, including the past two and six of the past 11. Another Big 3 — whether it’s the Spurs, who are up 2-1, or the Heat — will win the title this season.

It’s such a popular and effective strategy that teams plot to form a Big 3. It doesn’t always work. The Houston Rockets tried in 1998-99 with Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon — all past their primes in Hall of Fame careers. They lost to 3-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

The Oklahoma City Thunder recently tried to make it work with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They lost to the Miami Heat in the 2012 Finals but financial decisions prevented the Thunder from keeping Harden, who was traded to the Houston Rockets just before the start of the 2012-13 season.

Coincidentally, the Rockets might be the next team to push for a Big 3. With Harden and Dwight Howard, the Rockets believe another All-Star — perhaps Carmelo Anthony — could push them to a championship. Who knows what the Heat’s front office is scheming for next season or the one after.

“You can’t call yourself a Big 3 unless you win championships,” Horace Grant said.

When Grant and Parish played, the phrase Big 3 wasn’t en vogue.

“We didn’t think of ourselves as a Big 3,” Grant said. “In hindsight, yes, we were a Big 3, from the mere fact that winning championships. … Big 3s carry their teams as a collective.”

Parish said he knew the Celtics were headed in the right direction on the first day of training camp in 1980-81. Parish and McHale, then a rookie, were acquired in a trade at the 1980 draft. Bird was starting his second season.

“I knew from the first day we had the makings and the ingredient of something special,” Parish said. “I didn’t know it would turn into a championship season. I knew that we were going to make a lot of noise.

“We clicked off the court from a people standpoint and that relationship carried over onto the court. From our first practices, you would’ve sworn we were on the court for five or six years.”

Bird-McHale-Parish and Magic-Kareem-Worthy dominated much of the 1980s.

“The one thing I have always respected about our Big 3 and the Lakers Big 3, it was very rare that all three were playing bad at the same time,” Parish said. “There was always one, and if not two, carrying the load, and god help the other team if all three were playing well at the same time because it would be a long night for opponent.”

Then the Bulls’ different versions of a Big 3 ruled a portion of the 1990s, and the Spurs took it from there, setting a path for the 2008 Celtics and the current version of the Heat.

The Spurs Big 3 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — won three championships (2003, 2005, 2007) and are two victories against the Heat from a fourth.

“That Big 3 is just as good as any Big 3 you have named,” Grant said.

It’s been a remarkable run, noted not only for its success but for its longevity. In this era, how many teams keep a core like that together for 12 seasons?

“It’s very unique,” Ginobili said. “I don’t think it’s happened many teams in history where three players have played together for so long and in a successful manner like this where no one is egotistical and trying to demand things. I’m very happy and proud being part of this group.”

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t view Duncan, Parker and Ginobili as a Big 3. But it’s obvious he appreciates his experience with them.

Asked what has enjoys most about coaching that trio, he said, “Oh my.”

But he had an answer.

“They’ve gotten over themselves. (That) is what we always talk about,” Popovich said. “It’s absolutely not about any one of them, and they know that. If you have three people on your team that lead the way in that manner, it’s to be enjoyed on a daily basis. So that’s probably the first thing I’ve enjoyed about them. It makes my job so much easier.”

FIFA World Cup 2014: June 12-19 TV Schedule

June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

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ESPN has announced its schedule of commentators for the live World Cup matches that will be shown on US television from June 12-19. Commentator assignments will be made at a later date for the other matches.

Lead play-by-play commentator Ian Darke and analyst Steve McManaman will call the opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup – Brazil vs. Croatia – from Sao Paulo on Thursday, June 11, at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, ESPN3 and WatchESPN.

Darke and Macca will call the England games, while Darke and Taylor Twellman will be the announcers for the USMNT matches. ESPN have teamed up Jon Champion and Stewart Robson for many of the games featuring European teams, while Fernando Palomo and Alejandro Moreno team up for games involving Mexico.

Out of all of the games thus far, the biggest surprise is that Roberto Martinez will co-commentate the Argentina against Bosnia game. Martinez was earmarked as a studio analyst, but it’ll be a great pleasure to hear him co-commentate a game.

ESPN’s comprehensive coverage of the tournament will include all 64 matches televised live on ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPN3 and WatchESPN (and ESPN Radio), as well as 54 matches on ESPN Deportes and another 10 on ESPN Deportes+.

Here’s the TV schedule:

World Cup 2014 Broadcast TV Schedule

Thursday, June 12
Brazil vs Croatia, 4pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Ian Darke & Steve McManaman

Friday, June 13
Mexico vs Cameroon, Noon ET, ESPN2 and WatchESPN; Fernando Palomo & Alejandro Moreno
Spain vs Holland, 3pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Jon Champion & Stewart Robson
Chile vs Australia, 6pm ET, ESPN2 and WatchESPN; Daniel Mann & Kasey Keller

Saturday, June 14
Colombia vs Greece, Noon ET, ABC and Watch ABC; Adrian Healey & Taylor Twellman
Uruguay vs Costa Rica, 3pm ET, ABC and Watch ABC; Jon Champion & Stewart Robson
England vs Italy, 6pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Ian Darke & Steve McManaman
Ivory Coast vs Japan, 9pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN[ Derek Rae & Efan Ekoku

Sunday, June 15
Switzerland vs Ecuador, Noon ET, ABC and Watch ABC; Adrian Healey & Alejandro Moreno
France vs Honduras, 3pm ET, ABC and Watch ABC; Daniel Mann & Kasey Keller
Argentina vs Bosnia, 6pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Derek Rae & Roberto Martinez

Monday, June 16
Germany vs Portugal, Noon ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Jon Champion & Stewart Robson
Iran vs Nigeria, 3pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Derek Rae & Efan Ekoku
Ghana vs USA, 6pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Ian Darke & Taylor Twellman

Tuesday, June 17
Belgium vs Algeria, Noon ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Adrian Healey & Efan Ekoku
Brazil vs Mexico, 3pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Fernando Palomo & Alejandro Moreno
Russia vs South Korea, 6pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Daniel Mann & Kasey Keller

Wednesday, June 18
Australia vs Holland, Noon ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Jon Champion & Stewart Robson
Spain vs Chile, 3pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Ian Darke & Steve McManaman
Cameroon vs Croatia, 6pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Derek Rae & Kasey Keller

Thursday, June 19
Colombia vs Ivory Coast, Noon ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Adrian Healey & Alejandro Moreno
Uruguay vs England, 3pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Ian Darke & Steve McManaman
Japan vs Greece, 6pm ET, ESPN and WatchESPN; Daniel Mann & Efan Ekoku

Let us know your feedback on the commentators that ESPN have selected for the games announce thus far in the comments section below.

Quick pushes Kings to brink of Stanley Cup

June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

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It turns out Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings are just as good with the lead as they are without it.

That leaves the New York Rangers with little hope of making much of a series out of the Stanley Cup finals.

Quick stopped 32 shots in his best start of the series, Jeff Carter scored in the final second of the first period, Jake Muzzin and Mike Richards added goals in the second, and the Kings beat the Rangers 3-0 on Monday night to move within one win of their second Stanley Cup title in three years.

Los Angeles leads 3-0 and can claim the Cup on Wednesday night in New York. The Kings have already survived three Game 7s on the road, so this amount of success has their confidence soaring.

Quick hardly showed it when he took the podium wearing a black hooded sweatshirt.

“I don’t think it would be any different if we were down 3-0,” Quick said. “We’re just trying to win a game in a couple days here. That’s the focus.”

After the Rangers blew two-goal leads in each of the first two games of the championship round in Los Angeles, they came home and couldn’t get anything going against Quick.

The All-Star was sharp early and in the middle when the Kings built their lead. Not even six power plays could jump-start New York’s offense.

“We did a lot of things the right way,” Quick said. “Now we get ready for the next one. The fourth one is always the most difficult.”

Los Angeles escaped with two overtime wins at home and then took complete command inside Madison Square Garden.

The Kings grabbed their first lead of the series on Carter’s goal and then stretched the edge to three goals in the second — something the Rangers failed to do in California.

While there has been only one comeback from a 3-0 hole in the finals, the Kings erased such a deficit in the first round against San Jose.

“Well, we know it’s possible,” Richards said. “The last game is always the hardest. We played a good game. We’re going to have to play a better game if we’re going to want to have success.”

New York’s Henrik Lundqvist was hardly at fault on the goals, and finished with 12 saves. He was just outdone by Quick, who was perfect at the other end of the ice.

“You try to stay positive right now, but it’s tough. It’s really tough,” Lundqvist said. “We are doing a lot of good things, but you look at the goals, and we put two in our own net. Then just a tough play on the third one.”

Quick, a Connecticut native who grew up a fan of the Rangers and 1994 Stanley Cup-winning goalie Mike Richter, made a brilliant save with his stick blade to deny Derick Brassard shortly after a Rangers power play. That stop came on the heels of Brassard having two chances during the advantage off a rebound of Brad Richards’ shot.

Brassard’s first attempt was blocked, and the second was stopped by Quick.

The Kings goalie was also on his toes just 8 seconds into the third when Chris Kreider came in alone but was stopped in tight. That eliminated the optimism the sold-out, towel-waving crowd had of a big comeback.

“You’ve got to finish in this game. It’s a performance-oriented business,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.

Los Angeles took its first in-game lead in the series when Carter scored his 10th of the playoffs on the Kings’ fifth shot. Carter snapped a hard drive that clipped the skate of diving defenseman Dan Girardi in front and caromed inside the right post with 0.7 seconds left.

The red and green lights behind Lundqvist both flashed while the Kings celebrated. At no point did Los Angeles hold the lead at home in the first two games until they ended each contest with an overtime goal.

“It was an unfortunate goal to give up at the end of the period,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “I thought our guys stayed with it and tried to come out with some energy, and created a lot. It was a tough one.”

The quick pace played into the Rangers’ preferred style, but New York managed only four shots in the first period. The Rangers led 2-0 in each of the first two games but couldn’t hold on. They nearly took the lead again when Mats Zuccarello faced an empty net at the left post, yet he was stopped by Quick’s lunging stick.

The Rangers’ early 2-0 lead in the series opener became a 3-2 loss when Justin Williams scored in overtime. They held three two-goal leads in Game 2, only to be thwarted when Kings captain Dustin Brown won it in double overtime on Saturday.

Quick had plenty of support in front of him to post his second shutout in these playoffs and ninth overall in the postseason.

“The team played great in front of me, cleared out a lot of rebounds that I left in front,” Quick said.

Muzzin made it 2-0 at 4:17 of the second after former Rangers forward Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar worked the puck up the right wing wall to Muzzin at the point for a shot that struck New York’s Martin St. Louis and found its way past Lundqvist.

Mike Richards finished a 2-on-1 with Trevor Lewis when his attempted pass across bounced back to him off McDonagh and was put it with 2:46 left in the second.

NOTES: Gaborik played his first game at the Garden since being traded by the Rangers in 2013. … The Rangers are 3 for 44 on the power play at home in the playoffs. Los Angeles went 1 for 4.

Comeback Kings grab 2-0 series lead vs. Rangers

June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

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A two-goal lead just isn’t enough against these Los Angeles Kings.

Even three two-goal leads.

The New York Rangers led 2-0, as they had in Game 1, then were up 3-1. They also led 4-2 in the third period, but wound up losing again, 5-4 in double overtime, Saturday night to fall behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final.

What were the Kings thinking when they were down by two goals again?

“We were thinking, ‘We’re gonna rope-a-dope ‘em again,’ ” said Mitchell, laughing. “No, actually, that wasn’t what we were thinking at all.”

Actually, what the Kings were thinking afterward was that it’s nice to be up 2-0 heading for New York for Game 3, but it’s not nice how they find themselves falling behind every game.

“We’re not happy with the way we’ve started these two games at all,” said Mitchell, a defensive stalwart who made rare offensive contributions Saturday — a goal and an assist. “We haven’t executed well in the first half of these games. It baffles all of us.”

But they keep finding ways out of deep holes. They trailed their opening series against the San Jose Sharks 3-0. They trailed their series against the Anaheim Ducks 3-2. They won Game 7 of their epic Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks – in overtime, on the road — after trailing 2-0 in the first period.

“We get more of a sense of urgency,” Kings leading scorer Anze Kopitar said of how the team reacts to falling behind. “But we have some room to improve. Obviously, we’re going to have to.”

The Kings again got tremendous offensive balance — five different goal scorers, including a playoff-leading 13th by Marian Gaborik, and three assists from Game 1 hero Justin Williams.

And again, they had a number of defensive lapses that led to the Rangers getting some easy chances against Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. The goals came from Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello in a first period that the Rangers pretty much dominated. They got second-period goals from Martin St. Louis and Derick Brassard.

But then, despite a number of good chances, they failed to score in the third or in overtime.

“We’ve played close to nine periods in these two games, and for the most part I’ve liked a lot of our games,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We just didn’t get it done.”

At times, the Kings didn’t get it done, either. They admitted afterward they are winning these games by a very thin margin and in a manner that could see the momentum in the series switch drastically as the locale changes to Madison Square Garden.

But Brown, the team captain, thinks the Kings will improve.

“I’m not really that concerned, because I understand that we can’t do it (keep falling behind), but I also understand the type of guys we have in our room,” he said. “I know we’ve been through a lot of emotional ups and downs.

“I’m confident in our group that we can sort it out and figure it out. It’s just a matter of resetting, reloading and dialing it in for Game 3.”

Then again, if it’s 2-0 Rangers early in Game 3, that might be OK, too.

Rangers vs. Kings: Keys to Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final

June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

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NHL teams have managed to come back from a 2-0 series deficit to win a Stanley Cup only five times in the previous 48 occurrences.

That’s evidence that the New York Rangers badly need a win when they play the Los Angeles Kings tonight in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 1 could have gone either way, but the Kings won in overtime after a bad bounce giveaway. What we learned in Game 1 is that the Kings will find goalie Henrik Lundqvist just as challenging to beat as Eastern Conference teams did.

Should the Rangers lose, the one statistical note of optimism is that the Boston Bruins erased a 2-0 deficit to win the 2011 Stanley Cup.

Here is a game plan for each team going into Game 2:

What the Rangers need to do

1. Utilize their speed to generate some turnover-creating hits on the forecheck. Make some stretch passes to the speedy Carl Hagelin or Chris Kreider.

2. Bring their “A” game. Those are coach Alain Vigneault’s words, not ours. He says the Rangers can’t beat the Kings with their “‘B” game. Who are we to argue? That means they have to play 60 strong minutes, not 40.

3. Get memorable performances from top-paid players Brad Richards, Rick Nash, etc. The Rangers can’t afford any passengers on this cruise to the top.

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What the Kings need to do

1. Get a tracking device on Hagelin. They have to keep tabs on him. He was very dangerous in Game 1.

2. Have a strong start. The Kings were sluggish at the start of Game 1. They need to come out of the gates like California Chrome at Belmont.

3. Keep the porch clean. They have to keep the traffic away from goalie Jonathan Quick and force the Rangers to stay to the outside with their shots. Quick is going to stop what he sees.

Rangers look for series split with Kings in Game 2

June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Although Dan Girardi had two days to ruminate on the overtime turnover that led to the Los Angeles Kings’ winning goal in the Stanley Cup finals opener, the Rangers defenseman only needed a few hours to put it behind him.

Girardi knows the Rangers can’t think about the past if they hope to raise the Cup in the near future.

Los Angeles hosts New York in Game 2 on Saturday.

“We’ve got to move on,” Girardi said. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to get a win going back to our building. If we can find a way for everyone to pull in the same direction, we’ll be fine.”

The Kings are looking to keep up the momentum they established with their two-goal comeback in the opener — although coach Darryl Sutter insists momentum doesn’t carry between playoff games. Despite that big finish, Los Angeles hopes it won’t have to play from behind after overcoming two-goal deficits in each of its last two wins.

“We can’t always get away with this (trailing) 2-0,” left wing Marian Gaborik said. “We have to have a better start.”

Here are five things to watch when the Rangers attempt to salvage a split at Staples:

EXTRA REST: The NHL gave the teams two days off before starting a potential sequence of four games and two cross-country flights in seven days. Both teams claim they’ve got plenty of pep despite their postseason grind, but the Rangers are particularly eager to atone for their dismal second half in the opener.

“I can tell you after the game, you wish you didn’t have the (extra) off day,” New York’s Brad Richards said. “But as we go in today, get a good practice, now it’s good to have that day to regroup.”

GETTING BACK: Both teams could have key defensemen back in their lineups for Game 2. Sutter said Robyn Regehr “probably” would play after missing 14 consecutive games since May 3 with a knee injury. New York’s John Moore is eligible to return from a two-game suspension for a head hit on Montreal’s Dale Weise. Regehr and Moore, both stay-at-home defensemen, could add stability to their teams’ back ends after a series opener featuring wild scoring chances both directions.

TIME TO GET NASHTY?: The Rangers insist Rick Nash is playing splendidly in the postseason, yet the seven-time 30-goal scorer has just three goals in New York’s 21 playoff games, all in the Eastern Conference finals. The Rangers, who went scoreless in the final 49:33 of Game 1, are likely to need more offense if they hope to keep up with the Kings, who have five players with more postseason points than anybody on New York’s roster.

“I’ve got to find a way to finish those chances,” Nash said.

HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE: Sutter juggled his lines for long stretches of Game 1, and his forwards responded to their new partners with a two-goal comeback and a dominant third period before winning in overtime. Los Angeles’ four-line offensive balance has been a strength, and the Kings are winning without many goals from leading scorer Anze Kopitar, who has found the net just once in 15 games despite 13 assists. Los Angeles was the lowest-scoring team to make the playoffs, but has been the highest-scoring team in the postseason.

CENTER OF ATTENTION: Los Angeles is among the NHL’s strongest teams up the middle, with Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards causing woe for every postseason opponent. New York’s quartet of centers doesn’t match up, but the Rangers nearly split faceoff victories with Los Angeles in the opener (29-28 for the Kings). Rangers coach Alain Vigneault sees aggressiveness against the Kings’ pivots as a key.

“Our guys need to manage the puck better,” Vigneault said. “We can play a faster game, and that’s been one of our strengths.”

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