Most teams would have been happy to go the locker room, on the road, in a scoreless tie and simply regroup for the second period.
But not the Los Angeles Kings, who never stop coming.
Instead, just seconds after killing off the first penalty of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Kings found a way to beat the first-period clock and score with just 0.8 seconds left before intermission.
The goal was scored by center Jeff Carter, whose shot went off of the right skate of defenseman Dan Girardi before caroming off of the glove of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and into the top of the net just before the buzzer, to put Los Angeles up on the New York Rangers, 1-0.
After the Kings extinguished the game first power play (following a high sticking penalty on defenseman Willie Mitchell) with just 18 seconds left in the period, right winger Justin Williams, while being forced toward the right boards, found Carter on a brilliant pass between two defenders at the bottom of the right circle.
When Carter’s shot found the net, it marked the first time during the 2014 Cup Final that Los Angeles — which won Game 1 in overtime and Game 2 in double overtime — led in regulation.
Behind a magificent performance from goaltender Jonathan Quick, who stopped 32 shots, the Kings never looked back.
“He was obviously the best player on the ice tonight,” head coach Alain Vigneault admitted.
Although Quick wouldn’t need more than Carter’s goal, defenseman Jake Muzzin scored a power play goal early in the second period and center Mike Richards added a final tally late in the frame to give the Kings 3-0 win and a comanding series lead by the same count, at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
Despite leading by two goals in Game 1, by the same amount on three difference occasions in Game 2 and outshooting the Kings, 32-15 (including 28-10 over the final two periods), in Game 3, the Rangers have been pushed to the brink.
New York also outhit Los Angeles, 25-18, but the Kings blocked 20 shots and the Rangers failed on six power play attempts. They were also unable to get a shot on net with Lundqvist pulled over the final three minutes.
Their only hope now is to become only the second team in NHL history (and the first since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs) to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the Cup Final.
Including Toronto, only four teams have come back from the hole the Rangers are in now, to win any NHL playoff series. One of them is Los Angeles, which rallied past San Jose in the first round this season, en route to becoming the first NHL team to win three straight Game 7s.
Unless New York — which hasn’t scored in more than 115 minutes, going back to the Rangers’ 4-2 lead late in the second period of Game 2 — can get its offense back into gear again soon, the Kings won’t have to worry about playing in a fourth Game 7 this year (or perhaps a Game 5 or 6, either), as Los Angeles seeks its second league title in three seasons.
However, one thing that New York can still rest its fading hopes on is how the Cup Final began two years ago.
Back then, after the New Jersey Devils ousted the Rangers in six games during the Eastern Conference Finals, the Devils, similar to what New York has done this year, lost Games 1 and 2 of the Cup Final to Los Angeles, each in overtime, and dropped the next game, 4-0. Although the Kings ultimately went on to win the Stanley Cup, they lost the next two games and were pushed by New Jersey to a sixth game.
Carelessly, the Rangers committed consecutive high-sticking penalties within the first 3:18 of the second period. The second of those, by defenseman Marc Staal, led to Muzzin’s goal 59 seconds later.
With Carter screening Lundqvist in front of the crease, Muzzin’s shot deflected off of right winger Martin St. Louis and deflected just enough to get past Lundqvist.
The Kings’ final goal came as left winger Kyle Clifford was able to clear the puck out of the Los Angeles zone on a second effort, ahead to Richards, who broke out on a 2-on-1 break with center Trevor Lewis.
Richards tried to get the puck to Lewis, but it bounced back to him off of the skate of defenseman Ryan McDonagh. In stride, Richards took the deflection and beat Lundqvist to his right, with 2:46 left in the period.
At that point, it didn’t matter much that the Rangers would take 11 of the 13 shots in the final period, especially with Quick remaining as stellar as he was.
Earlier, Quick stopped 17 second-period shots, nine of which came on three Ranger power plays. One of those saves was a terriffic stick save that made contact with the puck in mid-air.
In the first period, Quick kept the game scoreless by keeping a puck that was right at the goal line, out of the net, with his stick. He also made a few initial stops followed by rebound saves at various points in the game.
His efforts were reminiscent of the sensational way he played during the Kings’ Cup run in 2012, which ended with Quick earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason.
That could mean bad news for a Rangers team that is suddenly in an offensive drought since being in a solid position early in the third perion of Game 2, and which is desperately looking for a spark that could turn a Cup Final around that for all of New York’s ability to play much of the series on an even keel with Los Angeles, has turned decidedly in the Kings’ favor.
Trying to hang on for at least one more night and send the series back to Los Angeles, the Rangers will host Game 4 on Wednesday night.