LOS ANGELES – No strangers to comebacks, the Kings bested an early two goal deficit Wednesday night, trumping the New York Rangers with a 3-2 OT victory at STAPLES Center.
They’ve begun their Stanley Cup Final series in the same way they won the West -- overtime production.
New York’s two first period goals, the only they would score during the evening, came in a 1:43 span within one another. Benoit Pouliot buried the Rangers’ first goal after pick-pocketing Drew Doughty high atop New York’s zone as the Kings’ defenseman tried to make a rather fancy toe-drag move to avoid pressure.
Pouliot walked in alone on Jonathan Quick and ripped a wrist shot past his blocker side, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 6:39 remaining in the first period.
The Kings looked to respond to New York’s opening marker on their power play when Mats Zuccarello was sent to the box for a hooking infraction shortly after Pouliot’s goal. The Rangers, though, would add to their lead with a shorthanded goal off the stick of Carl Hagelin.
Hagelin broke out on a full-ice rush as the Kings got caught pinching in their own zone, then sped in on Jonathan Quick and beat him with a shot that ricochet off the left skate of Slava Voynov.
Hagelin’s goal gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with 4:57 left to play in the first period.
“Yeah, nobody is ever out of it,” Darryl Sutter told reporters following the game in regards to where the Kings stood after the Rangers’ early push. “Keep plugging away and make a big play to tie it, make a big play to win it.”
At this point, the Kings were having trouble finding consistent possession and pressure, looking rather discombobulated through much of the opening period. The Kings would find the spark they needed when Kyle Clifford got the Kings on the board with 2:27 to play in the first.
“We had a couple of good shifts before that, so I thought we were just building off that,” Clifford told reporters following the game in regards to the momentum his goal gave the Kings. “Like I said, go to the net and good things happen.”
It was a greasy goal for Clifford, one that the Kings’ forward earned purely on strength and positioning in front of Henrik Lundqvist’s net. Jeff Carter fed Clifford a quick pass from behind the net, and he tucked it home to give the Kings a much-needed boost heading into the second period.
Just over six minutes into the second period, Drew Doughty buried the equalizer with some nifty stick work, followed with patience and a perfectly placed shot. Entering the zone with heavy pressure, Justin Williams found Doughty hanging atop the zone and hit him with a pass. Doughty, evaded defenders with a slick toe-drag, then walked in with plenty of time and space to beat Henrik Lundqvist.
Doughty’s goal tied the game at 2-2, and also marked 17th point of the postseason, which is a new record for a Kings defenseman.
The Kings completely dominated the third period, outshooting New York by a 20-3 margin, but were unable to break the tie before extending into their second straight overtime game.
And once again, the Kings came away victorious in the extra period. Justin Williams hopped on a turnover in the Rangers’ zone, and walked in all alone on Henrik Lundqvist with the kind of time and space you could only dream of having in an overtime period in a Stanley Cup Final.
Williams, with no pressure, picked his mark on Lundqvist, beating New York’s goaltender to the top left corner to give the Kings a 3-2 victory in Game 1. With his game-winning goal tonight, Justin Williams now has nine points (4G, 5A) in the last seven games.
The Kings are now 3-2 in playoff overtime games this year, and tonight marked their first playoff OT win at STAPLES Center since May 6, 2001, when Glen Murray’s goal beat the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The series will return to STAPLES Center for Game 2 Saturday afternoon, slated for a 4:00 PM PST start in Downtown Los Angeles.