Scoring first and getting the lead in any important hockey game is a big deal. It either energizes the home crowd or discourages them, something that plays a big role in the momentum of each period and each shift. The New York Rangers will need to be the team that scores first to increase their chances against a Los Angeles Kings team that is favored to win the Stanley Cup Final. More importantly, if they should get the first goal, they need to protect their lead.
It’d be a stretch to say that New York needs to score first in every game, because the odds of that happening are very small. Any team that makes it to the finals is capable of coming from behind to win, which is L.A.’s specialty. The Rangers need to take special care of any leads they might grab against the Kings, something that hasn’t been easy to do vs. the extremely resilient Western Conference champions.
L.A. pulling off miraculous comebacks has developed into an identity for the team, and for good reason. The Kings had to play the max number of 21 games in three seven-game series against a tough Western Conference to reach the Cup Final. They’ve faced elimination seven times and survived them all, and also won three Game 7s.
No matter the score, the Kings always feel as though they’re in the game. In the west finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, L.A. came from behind in three of their four wins. That included Game 7, when the Kings rallied from three different deficits before winning in overtime.
So we get it, the Kings have confidence that they’re never out of a game. The Rangers need to do better than the Blackhawks did at holding a lead against the Kings. It’ll be interesting to see what gives first, because the Rangers have been very good at protecting leads in the playoffs.
In the east finals against the Montreal Canadiens, New York was hardly ever trailing in any game except one. Besides Game 5 when Montreal led for over 55 minutes of the game, they only lead for a combined 2:50 in the other five games of the series.
The Rangers never trailed in three of their four wins in the east finals, and only trailed for 17 seconds in the fourth win. Having goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been a major reason for maintaining some of those leads, and he seems to play better when the margin for error is the smallest. They need to keep it up when they have a lead against the Kings, because L.A. can strike multiple times very quickly.
In Game 2 against Chicago, the Kings were down 2-0 before ripping-off six straight goals, including five in the third period to stun the ‘Hawks 6-2. The Rangers must continue to pressure when they have the lead. That’s something they did against Montreal. They didn’t allow themselves to sit back with any type of lead.
Of course, the Rangers need to focus on getting a lead before they can think about protecting it.