NEW YORK – The champagne the Los Angeles Kings had ready for a coronation stayed in boxes. The New York Rangers suddenly have some life in the Stanley Cup finals.
Henrik Lundqvist made 40 saves and had the Madison Square Garden crowd chanting his name in the Rangers’ 2-1 victory in Game 4 that kept the Kings from a sweep on Wednesday night.
Benoit Pouliot and Martin St. Louis each scored for the Rangers. Los Angeles leads the series 3-1 and will get its second shot to claim the Cup for the second time in three years Friday night at home.
“We wanted to close it out tonight and we weren’t able to do it,” Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. “Now we have a desperate team coming into our building.”
Los Angeles hoped to become the first team since 1998 to complete a sweep in the finals. The Rangers will try to be the second team to erase a 3-0 hole in the finals and go on to win the Cup.
The Kings had that kind of comeback in the first round against San Jose.
“It’s not impossible,” Lundqvist said.
Twice Los Angeles put the puck on the goal line, but couldn’t get it all the way across. The last came with 1:11 left when Rangers forward Derek Stepan pushed the puck out of danger in the crease after it got behind Lundqvist.
“I was just holding my breath,” Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. “All those guys in the crease did a great job to keep it out.”
Pouliot scored 7:25 into the first period and St. Louis added a goal in the second. New York squandered multiple two-goal advantages in losing the first two games in overtime in Los Angeles.
Not this time.
Lundqvist and the Rangers continued their mastery of extending their seasons. New York is 11-2 in the past 13 games when facing elimination, and Lundqvist was in goal for all of them.
“When everything is on the line, you just have to challenge yourself the right way,” Lundqvist said. “You have to be focused. One mistake and the season is over. You’re definitely aware of that.”
The Rangers also have won an NHL-record eight consecutive home games when facing elimination, dating to 2008, behind Lundqvist.
“We got our first one,” St. Louis said, “and I’m sure that’s going to help our mood.”
The Kings were quick to the puck all night and pressed for the tying goal in the third. They outshot the Rangers 15-1 in the frame and 41-19 overall.
“I think we sat back a little too much in the third period, but we didn’t blow the lead this time,” Stepan said.
Two nights after Jonathan Quick stopped 32 shots in a 3-0 victory that put Los Angeles on the brink of another championship, Pouliot got a puck past him.
St. Louis then put in a rebound at the left post 6:27 into the second, giving New York its fifth two-goal lead of the series. But just like in Games 1 and 2, a two-goal deficit sparked the Kings.
At the tail end of a Rangers power play, Girardi broke his stick and lost the puck to Kings captain Dustin Brown for a breakaway.
Brown made several moves in front of Lundqvist before tucking a forehand inside the right post to make it 2-1 with 11:13 left in the second.
The Kings had a chance to get even, but the Rangers killed Dominic Moore’s cross-checking penalty late in the period. Jeff Carter then got behind Girardi before being stopped on a breakaway by Lundqvist.
Pouliot broke Quick’s shutout streak at 123 minutes, 1 second. New York hadn’t scored since Derick Brassard’s second-period goal in Game 2. Pouliot’s fifth goal of the playoffs came 2 seconds after Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell finished serving a high-sticking penalty.
John Moore fired a drive from the center of the blue line that Pouliot deflected high with his stick blade into the top right corner behind Quick.
The Kings almost tied it at 1-1 with 8:11 left in the first period — seconds into a power play — when defenseman Alec Martinez’s shot got behind Lundqvist and slid along the red goal line without crossing it. Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman cleared the puck away as Carter and Marian Gaborik pressured in the crease.
Video replay clearly showed that the puck didn’t go over the line.
The Garden had a different feel than the optimistic atmosphere of Game 3 when the Rangers returned home. But as the Rangers started to score, the crowd slowly came alive, roaring in approval.