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Kings win opener without their 'A' game

by Corey Masisak

LOS ANGELES -- The New York Rangers did not get schooled in the faceoff circle. They did not get dominated at even strength, at least for the first two periods.

They did not get shackled by the Los Angeles Kings' pressure-packed approach to playing without the puck and they were able to create odd-man rushes and breakaways and great scoring chances.

They also did not win Game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. The Kings shrugged off a sluggish start before asserting control and winning 3-2 in overtime Wednesday.

"It was not a good hockey game for us," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "We kind of got away with one. [Goaltender Jonathan Quick] was outstanding to let us find a little bit of legs. We still didn't have great legs out there. I think maybe the trainers put gumboots in our stalls instead of skates [Wednesday]. Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason behind us. We just battled and relied on our goaltender way too much. We need to be better than that next game."

It was a great start for the Rangers, who had five days of rest since finishing the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. The Kings, who went to overtime Sunday to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, were not sharp early, leading to some great chances for New York.

Even after the Kings leveled the score at 2-2 with a wondrous goal by Drew Doughty, the Rangers had a strong finish to the second period. At that point New York was beating the best puck-possession team in the League at its own game and dominating on special teams.

Not only did the Rangers have more shot attempts at even strength through 40 minutes, they had a 13-2 advantage on special teams, which included a 4-2 advantage when Los Angeles had the extra man.

"We certainly don't want to make a habit out of this," game-winning goal-scorer Justin Williams said. "That is a world-class team up there with world-class offense. ... A lot of things [went] awry during the game. We certainly have to clean that up. We certainly weren't ready for the speed of their wingers, I don't think."

The process of cleaning up their issues began in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Los Angeles put together a period of dominant even-strength hockey that exceeded anyone's expectation of how 5-on-5 play could go in this series when the Kings are rolling.

The Kings outshot the Rangers 20-3 in the third period and controlled the flow of the game for long stretches. One of the three New York shots essentially was a dump-in by Derick Brassard from the neutral zone. One came on a shorthanded breakaway for Carl Hagelin in the final minute.

The other, New York's first of the period, came at 11:43 after the puck jumped over a couple of sticks in the neutral zone and led to a 2-on-1 for the Rangers, but Quick stopped Martin St. Louis' shot. For an entire period the Rangers did not get the puck in the Los Angeles zone and create a shot on goal.

"It's a matter of us maybe trying to do too much with the puck instead of getting it deep and getting our forecheck going," Hagelin said. "We had a couple of times when we got in the zone and turned it over. That's not the way we need to play. And they feed off that transition. If we would have just taken shots from the blue line, got some faceoffs in their zone, that would have helped us."

Instead, the Kings' machine-like ability to tilt the ice in their favor got into a rhythm and the Rangers couldn't get them out of it. But even after a dominant period and an overtime goal, the Kings were not happy with how they played.

It was a stark contrast to Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, when the Kings lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 and felt like it was one of their best games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to date.

"You don't want to trade chances with the New York Rangers," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I said it [Tuesday] and I've said it every day. If you have to score more than three goals you're going to have trouble. If you trade chances, in the end you're going to have trouble."

The Kings were expected to be fatigued at the start of the Chicago series and they weren't. After two days to rest they racked up three straight victories against the Blackhawks.

They were sluggish early in this game, but fatigue was not an issue as Los Angeles closed strong. The Kings now have two days off again before Game 2 of this series Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS) to rest and correct some issues from the first 40 minutes of Game 1.

"We found a way to win," center Mike Richards said. "But I think everybody wants to forget about this game. 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."


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