Lundqvist, Rangers stay alive with narrow Game 4 victory
Faced with the prospect of being the first team to be swept out of the Stanley Cup Finals since the Washington Capitals in 1998, Lundqvist and his club improved to 11-2 in their last 13 elimination games and 5-0 during these playoffs.
"We didn't want that Cup out on our home ice. The thought of it makes me sick," Lundqvist admitted. "It's about competing, you have to be extremely focused, one mistake and the seasons over. Exciting. Tough, but fun."
The 32-year-old Swedish starter now owns an 8-0 record, 0.99 GAA, a .968 save percentage and two shutouts in his last eight games when facing elimination at home.
Benoit Pouliot recorded a first-period tally for the Rangers, who hung on despite posting only one shot in the game's final 20 minutes.
Dustin Brown scored and Jonathan Quick made 17 saves for the Kings, who can win their second title in three seasons back home in Friday's Game 5.
"It doesn't mean a whole lot. We wanted to close it out tonight, and we didn't do it," said Kings forward Anze Kopitar. "But now we're going home, and we're going to try to close it there."
The Blueshirts were the recipient of three instances of "puck luck" in posting the franchise's first final-round victory on home ice since the clinching Game 7 of the 1994 Finals against Vancouver. Their second one led to the game winner.
During an odd-man rush, Derek Stepan attempted a dish to Chris Kreider in the slot, but his stick shattered and the puck slid off a Kings defender before snaking under a needlessly-sliding Quick. St. Louis wisely stayed in position on the left wing and tapped the puck in from the near-side post at the 6:27 mark of the second period to give the hosts a 2-0 advantage.
Brown halved the Kings' deficit with 8:46 played on a breakaway, moving past Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi -- whose stick failed him at the right point -- and beating Lundqvist after several dekes from atop the crease. The score came two seconds after a Tyler Toffoli slashing minor expired.
Los Angeles' offense seemed to kick into another gear at that point, but Lundqvist stayed calm under the onslaught.
The best chance for the visitors to tie before intermission occurred with 1:14 remaining, as Jeff Carter swooped in alone from left to right, but Lundqvist denied the chance at the far post with his outstretched pad.
The Kings dominated from the drop of the puck in the third, recording nine shots before the Rangers had one. Toffoli and Mike Richards had quality chances, then Brown was alone in front, but Lundqvist followed him across the crease and made a chest save with 3:45 played.
Lundqvist also stopped back-to-back chances from Marian Gaborik and Toffoli near the midway point of the period, then fended off tries from Tanner Pearson and Carter with under five minutes to go.
Quick was still waiting to be pulled for an extra skater when a wild scrum in the Rangers' crease ensued with 1:11 to go. Pearson's initial tip bled through Lundqvist's pad and stopped on the goal line until Stepan swatted the puck back underneath his goaltender. Four more players rushed in and it appeared Stepan closed his hands on the puck, but no infraction was called.
"That's player instincts, player knowing the rules. Stepan's a real smart player," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.
Quick did head to the bench before the ensuing faceoff, then Brian Boyle missed a try to the empty cage from his side of the red line with 1:02 left.
Los Angeles kept up the pressure for the final minute, but couldn't find an equalizer.
"I've been in the game long enough to know that sometimes the hockey gods are there. Tonight they were," added Vigneault. "Thank God for soft ice."
The Rangers received the game's first power play 5:23 in, when Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell sat for high sticking. Quick's defense collapsed around him during New York's mid-advantage flurry, but the visiting netminder still made consecutive stops on Brad Richards and St. Louis in close.
Quick made a glove save on a John Moore drive late in the power play, but was unable to turn away Moore's second chance from the right point, which was tipped off the blade of Pouliot's raised stick in the slot and sailed home two seconds after the penalty expired. A brief review confirmed Pouliot's blade was below the crossbar.
Less than 10 seconds into a Mats Zuccarello delay-of-game minor, a one-timer by L.A. defenseman Alec Martinez from the left circle squeezed through Lundqvist and laid across the goal line without going over before Rangers blueliner Anton Stralman beat Carter to the loose disc and swept it away.
Less than a minute into the second, Justin Williams led Gaborik with a cross- ice dish to the left circle, but the latter rang his shot off the crossbar to the near side.
"That's what happens in these games. We just have to bear down and try to get to those loose pucks and dig deeper," said Gaborik about the breaks going against his team.
Quick stopped Rick Nash and Dominic Moore from the left side of his net at the tail end of a 4-on-4 situation just over four minutes in, but he was powerless on the hosts' second tally.
Pouliot's goal ended Quick's shutout streak at 123 minutes, 1 second ... The Rangers have won an NHL record eight straight home playoff games when their season was on the line, since Game 4 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Pittsburgh ... Detroit (1949-55) and the Montreal Canadiens (1934-40) previously shared the top spot with seven in a row ... New York has never been swept in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, although Broadway's team lost in two straight to the Bruins in 1929 ... The Rangers decided to sit forward Dan Carcillo, who finished serving his reduced six-game suspension for contact with an official from the Eastern Conference finals ... Brown has eight points (4G, 4A) in his last eight playoff games ... Los Angeles fell to 3-8 this postseason when trailing after two periods.