NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist put forth a world-class performance Wednesday night. But the New York Rangers' goaltender had a little help from his teammates, as well as a dash of the 'puck luck" that eluded the Eastern Conference champions in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final.
That luck was epitomized with 1:11 remaining in a third period dominated by the Los Angeles Kings when left wing Tanner Pearson redirected a shot that squeaked through Lundqvist's pads, only to die right on the goal line. In a mad scramble, Rangers center Derek Stepan managed to push the puck under his goaltender and get a whistle.
That came after Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman denied Jeff Carter what appeared to be an easy tap-in with 8:10 left in the first period. With the puck laying on the goal line, Stralman got his stick on top of Carter's and prevented the Kings center from scoring what would have been his 11th goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Those two plays ultimately ruined any chance of the Kings celebrating a championship on Wednesday. Los Angeles lost 2-1 in Game 4, and the best-of-7 series will shift back to Staples Center for Game 5 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"It's that close," said Pearson, who was arguably the Kings' best forward in Game 4 with eight shots on goal. "If we were able to put those in or tap those in, then it's a whole different hockey game. [We've got to] leave it behind and move on to the next one and try to close it out."
It was a frustrating end to a dominant 30-minute stretch by the Kings, who outshot the Rangers 15-1 in the third period. Had Pearson's shot not stopped dead in its tracks inches from the goal line, the Kings likely would have had at least an opportunity to win in overtime for the third time in this series.
"I saw it on the Jumbotron," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "There were two like that tonight. That was the difference in the game."
Los Angeles once again tried to overcome a 2-0 deficit after Benoit Pouliot scored 7:25 into the game and Martin St. Louis beat Jonathan Quick 6:27 into the second. Dustin Brown got the Kings headed in the right direction 2:19 later when he beat Lundqvist on a breakaway moments after a slashing penalty on Tyler Toffoli expired. But Los Angeles, which outshot New York 27-6 after St. Louis' goal, couldn't complete another rally.
"I didn't think we had a great start," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "There was a couple of pucks on the goal line that didn't ... we weren't able to cash in on. We're going to have to do a better job in Game 5."
Part of that, according to Kopitar, will involve creating more traffic in front of Lundqvist, who improved to 5-0 in elimination games this postseason.
"I think we can do a better job getting to him," Kopitar said of Lundqvist, who finished with 40 saves. "I think a couple of times where we didn't make it tough on him. The pucks were sitting there. But the pucks he's going to see, he's going to stop. That's just how it is."
Even the pucks Lundqvist didn't completely stop managed to stay out of the net in Game 4. If the Kings are going to close out the series Friday, they know they're going to have to capitalize on the quality chances they create.
"We had a lot of good opportunities," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "But you got to finish. You're only going to get a handful most nights against the New York Rangers. You got to finish a couple of them."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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