Half Baked: Our Kings Fan Is Primed for Victory. Our Rangers Fan … Not So Much

With Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final being played tonight at Staples Center, we asked two fans to channel their nerves into something constructive: a conversation about their hopes, fears, dreams, and feelings about the phrase “puck luck.” Here, Grantland’s resident New York Rangers enthusiast Katie Baker chats with Los Angeles Kings season-ticket holder and blogger The Royal Half. (You can read their previous discussions here and here.) Jonathan Quick continues to frighten them both.

Katie Bakes: Well, sir, you must be thrilled! As a Los Angeles Kings fan so cocky you were actively rooting against your team in Game 4 (just so you could see it win the Cup back in Staples Center on a night more convenient to your personal schedule), you’ve gotten your wish. I’d say that the entitlement of expecting everything to revolve around oneself is soooo L.A., but I lived in New York for six years and would definitely be lying. I once rescheduled a coffee date 16 times.

The Kings were the better team on the ice Wednesday night, so naturally Los Angeles lost the game. Credit for this mostly belongs to Rangers goalie Bjorn Henrik Lundqvist, who has consistently played lights-out hockey when facing elimination. (“We definitely didn’t want to see the Cup come out on our ice,” he said after the game. “Just the thought of it makes me sick.”)

The Royal Half: Well, Katie, it’s like I’ve been saying all series: The better team lost.

Katie Bakes: I look forward to the better team losing in seven games.

In addition to Lundqvist, there were others who helped extend the final, like Anton Stralman, who swept a puck off the line, or Martin St. Louis, who scored the Rangers’ second goal and allowed everyone to exhale ever so slightly. There was also, most important, the snowy, slushy, mid-June Madison Square Garden ice that turned a shot on goal into one of those sandy table shuffleboard games at a dive bar and instantly became the game’s MVP.

Hey, since we always hate on officials (the loudest cheers at MSG this series haven’t been “Let’s go Rangers,” they’ve been “These refs suck!”) … props to the refs for their confident and correct call on this one. Anyway, treacherous ingrate The Royal Half, how many fist pumps did you do as the game ticked down to an end?

The Royal Half: Before we get into the details of my Crimson Tide–esque mutiny … let me be the first to congratulate the New York Rangers for holding on to a two-goal lead (albeit barely) for the first time this Stanley Cup final.

Sure, it only took the second-most lauded inanimate item since the carbon rod to prevent the Kings from tying it up with just a few seconds left (no, I’m talking about the aforementioned snow, not Dan Girardi!). But despite the Kings completely dominating the second half, I’m sure the Rangers will totally win Game 5 and bring this series back to … AHAHAHAHA I’M SORRY, I CAN’T EVEN.

Katie Bakes: That shot chart is breathtaking. Nope, the Rangers totally didn’t score a goal and then go into a desperate defensive shell. Not at all.

The Royal Half: At least when the Kings go into a stifling defensive shell they get more than one shot on the opposition. That’s Western Conference hockey, yo!

Katie Bakes: I thought Western Conference hockey was whining consistently and unyieldingly about a lack of respect — and then being right. Do you think the NHL left Justin Williams off its official postseason T-shirts expressly to give writers the perfect ledes when he scores the Cup-winning goal?

The Royal Half: At first I had to check and make sure that Williams wasn’t a replacement player during any of the past three lockouts to confirm that this wasn’t a Kevin Millar–esque situation that prevented Williams from being put on any championship merchandise. Then I realized that Williams is the last name on the Kings roster and someone just cut him off by mistake. Good thing they got Jeff Schultz in there, though! And the Rangers one even has Jesper Fast on it! Even more proof of East Coast bias!

I tried … I tried really, really hard to root against the L.A. Kings in Game 4 so their second Stanley Cup championship would fit better into my personal Google calendar. I might have made a teeny, tiny fist pump after the Pouliot goal. But by the time Dustin Brown scored on a breakaway — I just want to make sure that everyone everywhere takes the time to never forget that Dustin “Lumbering” Brown scored a breakaway goal against Bjorn Lundqvist — I was leaping off my couch and trying to figure out where to hang the second replica Stanley Cup banner in my house.

I guess what I’m saying, Bakes, is that after 25-plus years … I don’t know how to quit this team … let alone actively cheer against them.

Katie Bakes: Warms the heart. Now, if the Rangers somehow were to win Game 5, what would be worse: repeated phrases like “renewed confidence” and “back on their heels” — or all the comparisons to the 1994 NYR team that entered Game 5 with a 3-1 lead at home, got rattled by the impending coronation, had to fly back across the country, and ultimately needed seven games to win? (Speaking of which, Messier, Richter, Graves, and Leetch are speaking at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan tonight! Go check it out and remember the good times!)

The Royal Half: Someone has forgotten that the L.A. Kings blazed out to a 3-0 Cup final lead against a team from the greater metropolitan New York area just two years ago … and then lost two games in a row before winning in Game 6. So I think that Kings fans are preparing for the worst — and by the worst I mean repeated use of the words “fatigue” and “momentum.”

Katie Bakes: “Darryl, does this all feel like déjà vu?”

The Royal Half: [Squints eyes … licks lips … moves tongue around in mouth.] “Never heard of him … who does he play for?” [Winks at Katie Baker asking question.]

Since you are a member of the Media™, I take issue with you creating the concept of momentum to try to knock the L.A. Kings off their game. Descartes would be so annoyed with you.

Katie Bakes: I just spent 10 minutes scrolling through this Tumblr of Darryl Sutter expressions, but I couldn’t find one labeled “Annoyed Descartes.” (There is a “Rodinianly composed” and a “Hitchcockian fury,” however.)

The Royal Half: I’ve got a dare for you … after Game 5, why don’t we both ask Sutter about “puck luck” just to see what his response is.

Katie Bakes: I’m missing tonight’s game for a wedding, actually, so I’ll have to take a rain check on that. We can do it on Wednesday following Game 7. You know you’ve reached peak puck luck when even noted Canadian Jay Onrait has had enough!

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The term has traveled through just about every stage on the Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations over the past week; by my calculations it’s currently sitting somewhere between “Backlash” and “Backlash to the Backlash,” which means we’ve hit the end of the road.

Do you believe in bounces? Do you think the vague notion of “luck” is relevant to this series? How essential is noted Kings fan Britney Spears’s take on the matter? Has the whole concept turned into a narrative crutch, this year’s version of “big boy hockey”? IS THERE A GOD?

The Royal Half: I think the puck luck debate must infuriate the advanced stats crowd to no end. For three games they’ve been showing statistically how the Rangers were actually the better team and how eventually the tide would shift back their way. And then Lundqvist blurts out “puck luck” on national television and all hell breaks loose.

I think the bigger concern for Rangers fans than which way the puck is lucking should be their head coach. Instead of focusing on Game 5, Alain Vigneault is busy mentioning the “hockey gods” and his time spent with the Vancouver Canucks in one sentence! If that’s not the kiss of death for the Rangers, I don’t know what is!

Katie Bakes: Vigneault’s press conferences have been getting increasingly batty. Before Game 4, he concluded a session with a joke about Netflix and then nearly tripped over the leg of his chair upon standing. I have the utmost confidence in his abilities.

Let’s talk Rangers defensemen. Ryan McDonagh somehow keeps getting better and better to watch. He played more than 28 minutes in Game 4, and not only has he aggressively been carrying pucks into the zone, he’s remained down in the slot afterward like some late-in-life power forward. It’s risky play, sure, but when you’re a game away from losing the whole series it makes sense to make these sorts of upside bets.

The Royal Half: So you are saying that McDonagh is the impact forward the Rangers hoped Nash would be?

Katie Bakes: There’s always that weird stage of the playoffs when you actively start hoping your team’s players are secretly injured. I think it’s going to come out that Nash hurt his shoulder or hand. Anyway, the more intriguing blueliner to have really emerged of late is Stralman, who swept a puck off the goal line in the first period of Game 4 and once again reminded us all that his contract is up for renegotiation at the end of this season.

Stralman currently makes $1.8 million, a figure that will at least double when this season comes to an end, bad news for a Rangers team that is going to be facing some interesting salary-cap decisions. When the Rangers snagged Stralman as an unrestricted free agent who had failed to make the Devils out of training camp in 2011, his own coach didn’t even know who he was, leading to this glorious presser exchange:

Reporter: “What does Stralman bring to the club?”

Torts: “Who?”

Reporter: “Your new defenseman.”

Tortorella: “No idea.”

Reporter: “Do you have any idea when he’ll be available?”

Tortorella: [Shakes head.]

Even a year later, Torts confirmed that he hadn’t the foggiest at the time. “I didn’t know who the hell he was when we got him,” he said. “When I first saw him, I didn’t like him.” Now Rangers fans are terrified they’ll lose him. I assume they’ll have to give him at least $4 million a season to prevent that from happening, which will be a squeeze.

The Royal Half: The New York Rangers overpaying a free agent? WHY, I NEVER!

Now, I didn’t want to bring this up, but your Worldwide Leader in Sports coworker Keith Olbermann couldn’t stop talking about it the other night. What’s been the deal with the crowd at Madison Square Garden for both games? Did they install a library next door during the recent renovations?

Katie Bakes: I’m not even going to defend the Garden, because in my experience it’s long been an arena that grows freakishly silent when things aren’t going well. People act as if New York teams have some sort of intrinsic next-level home-court/ice/field advantage — and yet half the time the only voices you can hear in the place are the ones throatily instructing the professional athletes below to just “SHOOT THE PUCK!” My biggest fear going into Game 4 was that if the Kings took an early lead, the place would revolt and turn ugly fast.

This isn’t a knock on New York fans; it’s a simple exercise in supply and demand. In the Eastern Conference finals, the fans waved their white towels and howled happily during the entirety of the anthem as if they were in Chicago. It was great. But as soon as John Amirante began singing on Monday night before Game 3, I knew we were dealing with a different demographic. That’s what happens when tickets run in the four figures.

The Royal Half: Well, I guess we all can’t be as loud as the San Jose Sharks arena is in October.

Katie Bakes: There is a 100 percent chance you will one day be attacked by someone wearing one of these T-shirts, and no jury of their peers will vote to convict. It isn’t just Sharks fans you’ve antagonized: On your latest podcast one of your bros, bro, referred to Rangers fans as “dickbags,” “shitheads,” and “assholes.” I won’t say it didn’t feel kinda personal after I was a guest on the show just days before. Discuss and/or apologize to me specifically. I just thought we were solid frenemies here.

Have the Rangers struck a chord with their masterful victory? Are you nervous? You’re definitely nervous. Like Drew Doughty with Joe Thornton, I can see it in your eyes. And let’s not forget that this game is being played on Friday the 13th. What’s the spookiest thing that will happen, besides a TV camera close-up on Anze Kopitar’s sunken sockets?

The Royal Half: To be fair, the member of Team The Royal Half that referred to New Yorkers in that manner is from New Jersey … so it’s par for the course.

The only thing scarier to see on Friday the 13th than Kopitar’s eyes would be Girardi making a decent defensive play. Can we just talk about how Tanner Pearson made Girardi his personal subway turnstile throughout the night? Pearson had eight shots on net in Game 4 and was a buzzing presence all over the ice, including having the initial shot that led to that fateful snow-pile goal stand with one minute left.

My favorite Pearson moment of the night was when he blew past McDonagh, and all Pierre McGuire could do was talk about McDonagh’s mistake rather than just acknowledging that Pearson had made the correct move. Which is really surprising for McGuire considering that Pearson IS FROM KITCHENER AND PLAYED IN THE ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE WITH THE BARRIE COLTS EDZO!

Katie Bakes: That was a terrible impression. It didn’t even include the name and hometown of his pee wee power skating coach.

The Royal Half: I agree, that was a terrible impression. But not as terrible an impression as the one your 70-year-old GM made on your favorite team’s fan base when he traded the captain and two first-round picks for a 38-year-old malcontent with another year at $5 million left on his contract. You want to talk about being frightened on Friday the 13th? Imagine a Rangers team next season with St. Louis and Nash as your two biggest hopes on offense. That’s scarier than anything Hollywood has produced in the last few years.

Katie Bakes: We’ll probably mortgage the future to go after Jason Spezza, who will promptly reinjure his spine. Back to the present: The one thing the Rangers have going for them in Game 5 is that they have to return eastward regardless, while the Kings would probably do anything to avoid a reprisal of Jarret Stoll dining on Chilean sea bass during a transcontinental flight. (Somehow, that isn’t a euphemism.)

The Royal Half: HOW DARE YOU CALL ERIN ANDRE… oh, I see … not a euphemism. Even though Stoll might have dined on the finest of airline fishes on his way back to Los Angeles, I can assure you he wasn’t nearly stressed out enough by the Kings’ Game 4 loss to do anything crazy … like eat carbs.

Speaking of not eating carbs … you saw the photo of the L.A. Kings Wives and Girlfriends, right?

It was like some kind of bizarro Robert Palmer video.

Katie Bakes: I just love that all the brunettes have been relegated to the fringes.

The Royal Half: The only thing more beautiful than that photo of the L.A. Kings WAGs is Tyler Toffoli’s eyes. All right, prediction time. I say the L.A. Kings close it out tonight and lift their second Stanley Cup, putting them just two behind the Rangers in 41 fewer NHL seasons.

Katie Bakes: While there’s high potential this could end up being as competitive as Team USA’s embarrassing bronze-medal game, I’m going to say New York surprises everyone and comes out with its best game of the season to bring everyone back to the Garden for Game 6.

Really, though: If the Rangers aren’t going to pull off one of the most all-time epic comebacks in sports and win in seven games on my birthday Wednesday, then I’d rather they just go out quietly in Los Angeles tonight. I’ll be distracted by a rehearsal dinner, after all, so if there’s ever a good time to pencil a crushing, shoulda-woulda-coulda Stanley Cup final loss into my selfish agenda, that time is now.

Filed Under: 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Hockey, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, NHL, NHL Playoffs

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes