LOS ANGELES -- When you're clutch, the puck finds you at the right time, in the right spot, and you deliver.
Justin Williams has been clutch for the Los Angeles Kings throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was again Wednesday, delivering the winning goal 4:36 into overtime to lift the Kings to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center.
"We've always known he's 'Captain Clutch,' " Kings forward Kyle Clifford said of Williams.
New York defenseman Dan Girardi whiffed on a first clearing attempt while on his knees, and on his second try he put it right on the stick of Kings center Mike Richards, who found Williams alone in the slot -- and he wasn't going to miss from there.
Williams beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with a stick-side shot for his second game-winner and eighth goal of the postseason. All of his goals have come in Kings' victories, including two in their past two Game 7s.
Williams has career-highs for goals (8), assists (12) and points (20) this postseason.
"I've said this many times: Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile, he doesn't get enough credit for what he does," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, whose goal off a Williams' pass in the second period tied the game at 2-2. "There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that's him and [Anze Kopitar]. When they have the puck plays happen."
The Kings also won in overtime in Game 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils (2-1); they won that series in six games. Los Angeles has won six straight series after taking a 1-0 series lead.
Game 2 of this best-of-7 series is Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"It's just one game, not the end of the world," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said.
For the Kings, it was just another two-goal deficit, not the end of the world.
They fell behind 2-0 on Wednesday, just as they did three times against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. They have rallied to tie every one of those games, and have won three of them. In all, it was their fourth win this spring after trailing by two goals, the most by any team in one playoff year since the Philadelphia Flyers did it five times in 1987.
"It certainly helps that we've done it time and time again," Williams said. "It's a great result of the hockey game for us, definitely, but we have a lot of things to clean up. Certainly [this was] not our best game by any standards, especially ours. But we were able to get it done. That's the most important thing."
Los Angeles had a chance to get it done in overtime because they suffocated New York in the third period, then got a timely save from goalie Jonathan Quick with 41 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Kings outshot the Rangers 14-0 through the first 11:43 of the third period and 20-3 in the period. But Lundqvist stopped every shot and Hagelin appeared to have the winner on his stick when he went in for a shorthanded breakaway, only to have Quick deny him with a glove save.
"The puck was rolling the whole way so I just tried to get a good shot off, which I did," Hagelin said. "He made a good save."
Quick called it a lucky save.
"We found a way to win, but I think everybody wants to forget about this game," Richards said. "Even though we got the win, it's not the poster way to win hockey games in the playoffs. Give us credit, we found a way to win. They're a good team, they played us hard, but we have to be better."
The Kings were better once they figured out how to deal with the Rangers' stunning speed.
Pouliot scored a breakaway goal at 13:21 of the first period after stripping the puck from Doughty at the Rangers blue line. Hagelin then used his speed to blow past Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and score a shorthanded goal 1:42 later. Quick made the initial save, but the puck went in off Voynov's skate.
Clifford scored 2:30 after Hagelin's goal, then had the secondary assist on Doughty's game-tying goal at 6:36 of the second period. Clifford also made a fine defensive play with a stick-on-puck diving poke check to stop another breakaway attempt by Hagelin late in the second.
Clifford's goal was his first in 37 playoff games, dating to April 23, 2011, and his first of any kind since Dec. 11, 2013.
"Making that 2-1 gives us a little bit of a step towards getting it all the way back," Williams said.
Doughty, who admittedly lost his cool after his turnover led to Pouliot's goal, got it all back for the Kings with a goal that was a picture of skill and poise. It also involved Clifford and Williams.
Clifford sent Williams into the right side of the Rangers zone with a long stretch pass from the far left-wing half wall. Williams curled back, looking for the trailer, and found Doughty in stride with a backhand pass.
Doughty put the puck through his legs to get around the outstretched stick of Rangers forward Derek Dorsett. Doughty was going full speed, but he abruptly stopped at the bottom of the left circle and beat Lundqvist with a near-side shot through a hole between the goalie's right arm and right side.
"When I get angry I kind of turn it on, I try to throw my emotions in the right way," Doughty said. "Yeah, it's a bad turnover. I wasn't happy with myself. I didn't want to try to do too much to make up for it. I had to be a better player than I was on that play."
Doughty had plenty of time and room in front of him to beat Lundqvist, but the Rangers goalie said he could have played it better. He admitted he could have played Williams' winner better too, even though it was directly off a turnover and Williams was alone in the slot.
"But it's always easy to look back here and have the right answer," Lundqvist said. "It's disappointing, but at the same time it's just one game. We will come back here with a strong performance in the next one."
|Benoit Pouliot (4) ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 NYR
|SHG - Carl Hagelin (7) ASST: Brian Boyle (5), Ryan McDonagh (11)|
2 - 0 NYR
|Kyle Clifford (1) ASST: Jeff Carter (14)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Drew Doughty (5) ASST: Justin Williams (12), Kyle Clifford (4)|
2 - 2 Tie
|1st OT Period|
|Justin Williams (8) ASST: Mike Richards (7)|
3 - 2 LAK
|Alec Martinez Hooking against Carl Hagelin|
|Mats Zuccarello Holding against Tanner Pearson|
|Jake Muzzin Interference against Rick Nash|
|Derick Brassard Boarding against Dustin Brown|
|Mike Richards Hi-sticking against Derick Brassard|
|Dan Girardi Hooking against Marian Gaborik|
|Rick Nash Holding against Drew Doughty|
|Drew Doughty Diving against Rick Nash|
|Brian Boyle Slashing against Dwight King|
|1st OT Period|