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Clifford's goal changed momentum in Kings' favor

by Shawn Roarke

LOS ANGELES -- Not much was going right for the Los Angeles Kings in the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on Wednesday.

The New York Rangers already had scored two goals during a 102-second span in the first period, including a gift of a second goal that came while the Kings were on the power play. On that play Rangers forward Carl Hagelin broke in alone but was stopped by goalie Jonathan Quick. However, the rebound clanked off the skates of backchecking defenseman Slava Voynov and trickled into the net.

It was not the start the Kings envisioned. They were tired, having played overtime in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks three nights earlier. They were facing an uphill battle, and as defenseman Willie Mitchell so eloquently said, they appeared to be skating in rubber boots, not ice skates.

All of that changed 2:30 later when the Kings got a goal from the most unlikely of sources: Forward Kyle Clifford. It started a three-goal rally that ended with the Kings winning the opener of the best-of-7 series 3-2 on an overtime goal by Justin Williams.

Clifford hadn't scored in a game since Dec. 11, 2013. It was his first playoff goal in 37 games, dating to April 23, 2011.

Yet here he was in the late stages of the opening period, barreling to the net as Jeff Carter pounced on a turnover behind the Rangers net and fed a pass into the slot. Clifford corralled the puck and elevated a beautiful shot that eluded goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to the blocker side.

"Go to the net and good things will happen," Clifford said.

Good things for the Kings followed Clifford's goal.

"Huge," Williams said when asked about the impact of Clifford's goal. "[Clifford] played a terrific game for us. We get out of that period still down two goals. It certainly could have gone either way.

"That's playoffs. There's little things here or there, second efforts that result in goals that we're able to come back from deficits. Making that 2-1 gives us a little bit of a step toward getting it all the way back."

They started taking over the game in the second period and got even at 6:36 on a picture-perfect goal by defenseman Drew Doughty. From there it was almost all Kings. From the Doughty goal through the end of regulation, the Kings had 28 shots; the Rangers managed five.

Los Angeles won it 4:36 into overtime when Mike Richards intercepted an errant clearing pass by New York defenseman Dan Girardi and fed Williams, who was all alone in the slot and rifled a shot past Lundqvist's stick for the game-winner and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

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