SANTA MONICA – Alain Vigneault has an opportunity to make history. The New York Rangers coach could become the first coach in NHL to actually want his team to turn the game into a track meet.
As the Rangers had a day off to regroup from their 3-2 defeat in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, they did so at a breathtaking beachside resort in Santa Monica. It gave them a day to take it easy, which should prepare them for the frenetic pace they’ll need to employ in Game 2 Saturday.
If there is one huge advantage the Rangers have in this series, it’s their team speed. For two periods in Game 1, it put the the Los Angeles Kings in a world of hurt and was a huge factor in the Rangers taking a 2-0 lead. The Kings can’t be nearly as physical against the Rangers as they are against other teams because they can’t catch them.
Vigneault talked about the Rangers finding a way, and that way will be by putting the Kings back on their heels with speed in Game 2. It will, as Vigneault posted out, require his team to be prepared to play that way for 60 minutes.
“One thing that was evident to me and should be to our whole group is we’re not going to beat this team if we all don’t bring our ‘A’ game,” Vigneault said. “Our ‘B’ game won’t do it. We’re not going to win if we bring our ‘B’ game to the table.”
The good news is that for 40 minutes in Game 1, the Kings looked like a beatable opponent. But the Rangers simply cannot count on a team as deep and as experienced as the Kings to come out that flat again, which means they’ll have to dictate the rules of engagement. And that means they’ll have to push, push the pace, then push it some more.
Coincidentally, one of the times the Rangers did that, the puck ended up in their net at the most inopportune time. The Rangers were already in transition and breaking out of their zone when the puck skipped over Dan Girardi’s stick, leading to the Kings’ OT-winner. It’s one of those occupational hazards of playing in Southern California in June. The ice is bad and the puck is going to bounce.
Those kinds of plays happen occasionally and it will be incumbent on the Rangers to put it behind them quickly.
“The way it looks, it looks like a terrible mistake,” said Ryan McDonagh, Girardi’s defense partner. “Maybe it’s not the right time to leave the zone and I was one of those guys leaving the zone.”