The puck squirted to the New York Rangers' goal line and halted dead in its vulcanized rubber tracks. Just stopped. Refused to move. Sat there alone and untouched. A shiny black hood ornament. A frozen omen.
Twice during big moments of Game 4 of the
How does it not move? How do the
The puck stopped here, and so did the Kings' first shot at kissing the Stanley Cup in a 2-1 loss that shortened their series lead to three games to one in a result that could be described as bittersweet. Or is that sweet-bitter?
Admit it, all you nuttily passionate Kings fans back in Los Angeles. Some deep part of you is not all that sorry that this series will move back to
Just don't ask the Kings if they agree. They don't. They'll never. They love their fans, they would rather clinch the Cup at home, but having come back from a three-games-to-none deficit just six weeks ago, they know the danger of letting the Rangers breathe.
Long after the immovable pucks were packed away Wednesday night, the Kings' blood was still racing.
"It sucks, we should have put those in the net, they were just laying right out there for us," said
The first frozen nightmare occurred midway through the first period, with the Kings trailing 1-0 and needing a jolt. During a scrum in front of the net, the puck somehow slipped under Rangers goalie
"I got a little lucky and was able to save it," said Stralman.
Luck? The Kings aren't buying that idea. They haven't bought it once during this amazing postseason, which is probably why they are still skating. They blamed themselves for not fighting their way into making that puck move.
"We need to make it harder on them," growled
In the final two minutes of the game, the puck stopped again, this time after a Tanner Pearson deflection skittered behind Lundqvist. This time, believe it or not, it was slowed to a stop by accumulated slush. With most of the hockey world thinking the Rangers didn't have a snowball's chance in June to win this series, well, they just won with a snowball in June.
This time, with Carter and
"I've been in the game a long time to know that sometimes the hockey gods are there," said Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault. "They were there tonight."
Hockey gods? The Kings aren't buying that either. Even after a game in which they outshot the Rangers 41-19 — including 15-1 in the third period — they criticized themselves for worshiping false effort.
"We just have to get hungrier around them," said Doughty. "To get pucks by this goalie and this team, you have to be hungrier than them and more determined than we were tonight."
While many fans in Los Angeles surely walked away from this game excitedly making plans for what will be a rollicking Game 5, the Kings literally ran from this game as if it could be contagious.
As Kings family members were being ushered through the Madison Square Garden tunnel — they had been flown in from Los Angeles just for this game and its possible celebration — Coach
"Gotta go," he said, tapping his hands on the table in front of him as he basically dared someone to ask him a question.
He was asked five questions. The entire session required 1 minute 44 seconds. His most biting answer came when someone implied — and you knew someone would — that there was consolation in returning to Los Angeles to have a chance to win the Cup in front of Kings fans.
"We were trying to win tonight," he said. "I don't think you look any further than that."
It was a night when they weren't looking any further than the three inches that could have given them a Stanley Cup championship.
The puck died. The Rangers live.