NEW YORK – The aftertaste of two stinging overtime losses in L.A. remained bitter for Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers on the long flight back home to New York.
"I personally use it as motivation," Lundqvist said on Monday morning, his team trailing the Kings by a dire 2-0 deficit heading into Game 3 at MSG. "You get upset and frustrated and disappointed when you lose. But you just have to respond the right way."
The right response would be victory on home ice and some hope for a crowd that hasn't witnessed a Stanley Cup Final game in 20 years. Heavy underdogs coming into their first Final since 1994, the Rangers have, at the very least, demonstrated their ability to crash, bang and skate with the Kings. A bounce or two in their favour in Games 1 and 2 – not to mention a different ruling on a controversial third Kings goal – and this series could look quite different as the series shifts back East, but as it stands, they find themselves at the very edge of a near-inescapable hole.
"We have to start winning and that's tonight," said Lundqvist, who has allowed eight goals on 87 shots in the Final. "I hope it's going to be an exciting feeling to step out on the ice here; home crowd, great atmosphere; take advantage of that; enjoy the moment but at the same time, really push ourselves here to try to play our best game so far."
New York has done its fair share of good in the Final so far despite the gaping series deficit. Packed with plenty of speed and punch, they raced out to 2-0 leads in both Games 1 and 2 only to come undone at the mercy of the resilient Kings en route to a pair of heartbreaking overtime losses – the latter in double overtime.
They've done enough, however, to believe that this series is far from over.
"Chance-wise, we're right there with them," said head coach Alain Vigneault, ever optimistic hours before Game 3. "We've played some good hockey. We got a little bit unfortunate in that last third period, but we're right there and we feel real good about our game.
"Things always even themselves out with the right effort and the right attitude. You say if you work hard, luck will come with you, well we're working hard; we're working our butts off here. I'm very confident that we're going to have that same type of effort here tonight and we're going to be real good."
History is not on their side.
All but five of the 48 teams who've earned a 2-0 series lead in the Final (since 1939) have gone on to capture the Cup. Among those five, interestingly enough, were the Vigneault-led Canucks in 2011, Vancouver falling in seven games to Boston despite the commanding early series lead.
The Kings are proof themselves that momentum can change quickly. They rallied furiously from a 3-0 series ditch in the opening round against San Jose, adding two more Game 7 victories along the way.
"I think the key is to realize that we're close and you don't have to change that much," said Lundqvist. "The difference has been a bounce here or a deflection. We're doing a lot of good things, but it hasn't been enough so we need to raise [our level] a little bit. But it's important that you don't try too hard and try too many different things. We need to stick together here and do it together. We had stretches in both games where I think we played really well and created a lot of chances, enough chances to win the game."