NEW YORK — It was understood by the New York Rangers that if they were going to conquer the Los Angeles Kings, they needed goalie Henrik Lundqvist to be a thief in the night.
They needed Lundqvist to steal a game, maybe two, to have a solid chance to defeat the streaking Kings.
King Henrik earned one of his steals Wednesday when he made 40 saves to down the Kings 2-1 to keep the Rangers' championship hopes dimly lit as the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Friday.
Still trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers are trying to become the first team in 72 years to erase a 3-0 series deficit to win the Cup. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the last team to successfully follow that path to the championship. Teams that have owned a 3-0 lead in the NHL championship series are 25-1.
To stay alive, the Rangers stopped the Kings' streak of scoring three or more goals for nine consecutive games. They had been averaging better than four goals a game during that stretch. It was mostly Lundqvist's doing. He was dependable, efficient, effective.
In the second period alone, he made 14 saves. With his team clinging to a 2-1 lead, he made a sprawling leg stop against Jeff Carter, who had cut across the goal crease.
Early in the third period, he calmly out-waited Dustin Brown to stop him on a shot from just in front of his crease. Midway through the period, he stopped Tyler Toffoli on his doorstep.
Lundqvist was the prince of poise in this contest. He offered no hint that his team was in the midst of an elimination game. Lundqvist has been sharp in every elimination game he has faced in this postseason. Shots went to his midsection and died instantly. He offered no rebounds. He gave the Kings almost no hope.
It was a strong outing by Lundqvist, who had spent three games watching Kings goalie Jonathan Quick playing the role of hero, particularly in the last game when he posted a 2-0 shutout.
Lundqvist, trying to win his first Stanley Cup, had impressive positioning in Game 4, always seeming to be square to the puck. The only goal to beat him came on a breakaway after a turnover by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.
The Kings had already erased two-goal leads twice in the series, but they couldn't tie the score, despite decent pressure in the second period.
Lundqvist had said after Game3 that the Rangers desperately needed some "puck luck," and they might have found it in Game 4. At one point, a shot leaked past Lundqvist. The puck stopped right on the goal line. Carter was there first but somehow was unable to push the puck across the line before Anton Stralman swept it out of the crease.
New York's first goal also came on a deflection by Benoit Pouliot.
For 40 minutes, the Rangers out-hit Los Angeles and played at a higher level of consistency than in the first three games.
The New York team has some advantage against Los Angeles, particularly in the speed department.
Unquestionably the Rangers understand they will have to play three strong periods defensively in Game 5 to climb back into this series.
But they also know that to have a real chance of erasing this canyon-sized series deficit they are going to need Lundqvist to steal another game. He has to continue to out-perform Jonathan Quick, and that isn't an easy assignment.