Alain Vigneault says Kings' skill, physicality 'big challenge'
New York coach calls on players to bring 'A' game Saturday
The Los Angeles Kings are a mountain to climb, and the size of the challenge comes home the closer you get.
The New York Rangers finally had a first-hand look in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, mounting an early assault before Los Angeles knocked them back to win 3-2 in overtime.
Asked to compare the physicality of the well-drilled Kings to the three teams the Rangers have beaten in the playoffs to date, New York coach Alain Vigneault neatly summed up the challenge before the Blueshirts.
"Philly was a physical team and they played on the edge," he said. "Pittsburgh played more of a skill game, but they also had quite a few players that played on the edge. Montreal was a real structured team. So they were three different opponents.
"This one here is structured. They've got skill. They're physical. So makes it a pretty big challenge."
You can add battle-hardened to that list.
In the dog-eat-dog Western Conference, the Kings have come to the final the long way. They have had to run the gauntlet of San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago, teams that finished 15, 20 and 11 points, respectively, ahead of New York in the regular season. And they did it without home-ice advantage.
Guys are evaluating their own games, getting ready to make adjustments and get ourselves ready for Game 2.- Rangers centre Derek Stepan after Game 1 loss to Kings
The Kings, who clawed their way back to dominate the second half of Wednesday's game, have already given the Rangers plenty to chew on.
Day of rest
The New Yorkers, nestled in a five-star cubbyhole on the beach, had the day off Thursday to ponder the challenge.
"To be able to be away from the game is a good thing, but at the same time I think if you ask every guy on our team, where we're at mentally right now is we're at the rink still," said forward Derek Stepan. "Guys are evaluating their own games, getting ready to make adjustments and get ourselves ready for Game 2."
That comes Saturday and Vigneault wasted little time challenging his players to up their game this time.
"One thing is real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we're not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our A game," Vigneault said. "It is that strong of an opponent that we're playing against.
"We had Hank [goalie Henrik Lundqvist] that brought his A game last night. We had a couple guys. I don't want to name who, I think brought their A game. But our B game won't do it. We're not going to win if we bring our B game to the table.
"They're one of the best teams I've seen in a long time. Areas to exploit, they don't jump out at you. We're going to have to be better than we were."
Unlike in the Eastern Conference final series against Montreal, where Vigneault and Habs coach Michel Therrien poked and prodded each other verbally, Vigneault has been all business so far in the final.
He seems to be staring at the Kings, like a career bank robber pondering how to take down a state-of-the-art safe.
Vigneault is no strangers to the challenge, having crossed paths with the Kings many times during his years as coach of the Canucks.
"They were a good team in the years past," he said. "They're a real good team now. They've obviously got more experience. They play their game plan to a T and they don't deviate in any shape, way, or form so that makes it real challenging for the opposition."
Worrying for the Rangers is the fact the Kings, who fell behind 2-0 in the first period only to rally and outshoot New York 20-3 in the third, can be better.
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter acknowledged his team was sluggish following the quick turnaround from the gruelling series with Chicago.
"Guys are not machines," he told a media availability at a hotel adjacent to their practice facility.
"We can play a lot better," he added. "It's way better when you're not chasing the lead."
Sutter did his bit to inject some life into his team, changing up the lines in the first period as soon as he saw some players did not have their legs under them.
The Kings also had an off-day Thursday.