“The series doesn’t really start until the road team wins a game.”
Hundreds of teams have gone down 2-0 in a series after losing both games away from home, all of which have lived by this mantra. They repeat it constantly, making sure everyone knows they’re not done yet.
The Rangers have undoubtedly been hoping the saying rings true in these Stanley Cup Finals. As they head home to Madison Square Garden, they know it could easily be 2-0 in their favor if they closed the deal in the overtime periods. They’re the speedier team with the better goaltender and if they can win tonight and Wednesday at home, it’s all tied up. That would make it anybody’s series again. Unless the Kings win one at MSG, New York is still very much alive.
However, history has shown that it’s just not that easy. Only five teams have won the Cup after being down 2-0 in the Finals: the 1941-42 Maple Leafs, 1965-66 Canadiens, 1970-71 Canadiens, 2008-09 Penguins and 2010-11 Bruins.
The ’41-42 Leafs actually lost the first three games of the 1942 Cup Finals, dropping the first two at home to Detroit. After going down 3-0 and staring elimination in the face, they outscored the Red Wings 19-7 in games 4-7 to complete the most improbable comeback in Finals history. No other North American sports team has come back from 3-0 to win a championship series, which makes the ’42 Leafs an extreme case. The Rangers certainly won’t seek comfort in what a team did 72 years ago.
The ’65-66 Habs also lost the first two games of the 1966 Cup Finals at home. That Montreal team was defending champions in the middle of a dynasty (seven cups in 11 years). They were far and away the best team that year, and had all the talent necessary to destroy the Red Wings in games 3-6, outscoring them by a score of 14-6 over the course of those four games.
The ’70-71 Montreal club fell behind 2-0 on the road against Chicago but, as they did in 1966, they stormed back, winning in seven. Chicago coach Billy Reay would later be criticized by star forward Bobby Hull for sitting Hull and star center Stan Mikita in favor Lou Angotti and Eric Nesterenko in situations where the stars probably should have been on the ice. It was the first time the coaches were blamed for blowing a series lead, a trend that would continue in sports for years to come.
When the Penguins fell behind 2-0 in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, it marked the second year in a row they faced a 2-0 deficit against Detroit. Unlike 2008, they were able to make a push and win in seven this time around. It was Evegeni Malkin who stepped up in crunch time, scoring a goal and adding five assists in the last five games to win the Conn Smythe Award. Pittsburgh’s comeback saved Sidney Crosby’s legacy for the time being, giving him the Cup he desperately needed after losing the year before. They were simply the better and more resilient team in those Finals.
The ’42 Leafs had the best Finals comeback, but the 2011 Boston Bruins may have been a close second. After Vancouver won two one-goal games at home, the series shifted to Boston and the black and gold dominated from there, outscoring the Canucks 21-4 in games 3-7. Game 3 set the tone as the Bruins showed no fear and emphatically shellacked Luongo and company by a score of 8-1. Tim Thomas’s shutdown performance earned him the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.
While only five teams have done it, the Rangers do still have a good chance to make the comeback and win this series. What has been lost in the shuffle is that the LA Kings haven’t even held a lead in regulation yet. They came back to tie both games and didn’t actually lead until they won in overtime. That means the playbook for the Rangers is simple: keep jumping out to leads, but finish the deal by playing sound defense, especially when clearing the puck from your own zone. Both overtime goals can be partly attributed to the defensive play in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who was not too pleased about his back line’s inability to get the puck out.
The Rangers’ mentality going into tonight’s Game 3 is probably that it’s not time to panic yet because they just need to take care of business at home. The series doesn’t really start until a road team wins a game, but New York has to play its best hockey tonight to make sure the Kings don’t make it all but over.