Rangers too fast for Kings in Stanley Cup Final rematch

 

In the rematch of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers bested the defending champion Kings 4-3 on Thursday night at the Staples Center.

The game was billed as can’t-miss when the schedule was announced, but quickly was deemed anticlimactic when the lineups were announced.

With the Rangers playing the second game of a back-to-back, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose performance the last time he was at Staples Center was Conn Smythe-worthy, sat in favor of backup Cam Talbot. Talbot quickly surrendered two goals in the first period but held strong when it mattered most. To beat a team with the speed and skill of the Rangers, three goals isn’t enough.

"We had trouble keeping up with a fast team," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "There is two ways of neutralizing speed: Be fast yourself, or slow them down. Even on the (Jeff) Carter line, we couldn’t handle it."

So what’s changed since Game 5? The Kings are without three key defensemen who helped slow the Rangers’ speed in the spring, but New York now is using its speed more effectively.

The Kings returned this season with nearly the same roster intact, but the defenseman depth chart has taken some lumps. The absence of Slava Voynov (suspended indefinitely), Robyn Regehr (hand injury) and Willie Mitchell, who is now with the Florida Panthers, was expoited by New York.

"Those are three pretty good players," Rangers center Derick Brassard said. "That’s the only thing that I thought was pretty different. Up front they’re the same team and they’ve got the same goalie."

The Kings’ effort to slow the Rangers resulted in four penalties. They killed off only two.

"Speed is very dangerous around the league because it is pretty hard to contain," Brassard said. "A lot of times trying to contain us means you are going to take a lot of penalties."

The Kings have allowed power-play goals in each of their past three games and it’s not a trend they are eager to ride.

"We seem to be in a funk, I think especially with killing penalties," winger Justin Williams said. "It’s not from a lack of trying. Guys are working as hard as they can. Throughout the season sometimes there are ups and downs. That is a down for us now.

"But regardless, two power plays and two even strength, that’s way too many."

Instead of asserting their dominance against an Eastern Conference frontrunner, the Kings are mired in a midseason slump, struggling to play consistent hockey. A team that doesn’t care for the emotional highs and lows of highly anticipated games is suddenly unable to maintain that even temperament to overcome the dramatic momentum shifts of a game.

"We let guys walk through seams and shoot," Williams said. "Little things add up to big things in hockey games and we all know this. We need to take more pride in them."

This rematch didn’t bring back all the fond memories of beards and celebrations. But then again, it’s still only January, not June, and if the season ended today, both teams would be in the playoffs.

But at the moment, the Kings (47 points, fourth place Pacific Division) wouldn’t be the favorite. The Rangers (50 points, third place Metropolitan Division) could enjoy that title.

"To be honest it was a little weird walking into the building, but after a few minutes in the dressing room you kind of forget about it," Brassard said. "Before the road trip a lot of guys were looking forward to coming here; there’s nothing better than a California trip. But we wanted to compare ourselves to some of the best teams in the league."