New York Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman (6) reaches to save the puck from crossing the goal line as Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter (77) tries to score from behind New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) in the first period during Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Wednesday, June 11, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool)
NEW YORK — The Kings were inches from hoisting the Stanley Cup if not for a couple of sitting pucks.
Twice, they had a puck sitting on the Rangers’ goal line. And as agonizing as it was for the Kings, no push or shove or stick poke or lucky bounce could get it to trickle in any further.
Once in the first period it happened — which would’ve tied the game. And the final time a loose puck was on the goal line was with 71 seconds left in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. They just stayed there and didn’t move.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was fantastic as he made 40 saves and led the Rangers to a 2-1 heart-stopping victory that saved New York from elimination at Madison Square Garden. The Kings didn’t sweep but still lead the series 3-1 and with a win in Game 5 Friday, they can celebrate with their fans at Staples Center like they did when they won the organization’s first Cup in 2012.
“It sucks,” defenseman Drew Doughty said of the loose pucks. “We should have put those in the net. They were laying right there for us. We just have to get hungrier around there. To get pucks past this goalie, and this time, you have to be hungrier than that and more determined.”
It was a wild ending in which the Kings outshot the Rangers 15-1 in the final period.
The Kings had countless chances — Tanner Pearson had eight shots — but they weren’t able to come up with a critical goal to tie the game and force overtime. They’ve done it so many times before, but not Wednesday.
That last loose puck was so close.
“I tipped it and didn’t think it went through, so I kept going,” Pearson said. “I got hit, so I couldn’t do anything. It just sat there. Bottom line, it just sat there.”
It wasn’t just those pucks on the goal line, either. Lundqvist turned back everything.
“We had a lot of good opportunities,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “But you’ve got to finish.”
Asked if he’d been part of a game like this before with pucks stopping on the line twice, Sutter said, with a smile: “Yeah, probably I recall several times it did. It did (Wednesday).”
The Kings can’t make like the Rangers and continuously complain about missed calls or not getting lucky bounces. As painstaking as it will be to watch replays of those pucks just sitting there for the taking, the Kings must forget those and concentrate on making new opportunities. Or they’ll risk coming back here for Game 6.
They were so close to winning.
Derek Stepan used his glove to knock the puck forward and under Lundqvist for the game-saver.
“I knew it wasn’t in because the light didn’t go on,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “I didn’t know exactly where it was. I was able to see the replay after. Thank God for soft ice now and then.”
The Kings won’t have a Madison Square Garden hex in Staples Center. They can close out the series and win the Stanley Cup by playing just as they did to win Games 1 and 2 in overtime and double overtime, respectively, at home and like that Game 3 shutout win here.
What they can’t do is dwell over those sitting pucks.
“It’s not frustrating,” said captain Dustin Brown, who had the Kings’ lone goal on a breakaway in the second period. “We need to do that more. We grind away.”
No use fretting over those immovable pucks.
Even though they were just sitting there, ready for a Cup hoisting