(SportsNetwork.com) – After blowing an early lead and losing in overtime to begin their first Stanley Cup Finals game in 20 years, the New York Rangers hope to rebound and even the series Saturday when they visit the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
New York grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period of Wednesday’s opener, but the Kings eventually took over the game and won it 3-2 in overtime. Justin Williams netted the game winner with 4:36 elapsed in OT to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven set.
While the Kings are aiming to add a second Stanley Cup title after picking up the franchise’s first championship in 2012, the Rangers are in the NHL’s final round for the first time since winning their fourth title in 1994.
New York’s first Cup Finals game in two decades was off to a rolling start in the opening period, but the Rangers couldn’t maintain the pace they showed in the early going.
Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin staked New York to a 2-0 lead in the latter stages of the first period, but the Kings cut the deficit in half before the end of the opening stanza. Drew Doughty then tied it up with a highlight-reel tally at 6:36 of the second and the score remained that way until Williams won it in the extra session.
The Kings recorded their fourth multi-goal comeback victory of these playoffs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time any team posted as many multi-goal comeback wins in one playoff year was in 1987, when Philadelphia earned five such victories.
Although no goals were scored in the third period, Los Angeles was clearly the better team in the final 20 minutes of regulation. The Kings outshot New York by a 20-3 margin in the third period and the Rangers can thank goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for getting the game to an extra session.
“One thing that’s real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we’re not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our A game,” said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. “It is that strong of an opponent that we’re playing against. We had (Henrik Lundqvist) that brought his A game last night.”
A stickhandling miscue by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi ultimately led to the game-winner. Girardi failed to control the puck in his own zone and was forced to make a desperate clearing attempt from his knees, but the disc went right to Mike Richards at the left boards. Richards calmly dished to Williams, who beat Lundqvist high on his blocker side to end the contest.
Surprisingly, it was the first OT winner in the postseason for Williams, a guy known primarily for his clutch playoff performances. Williams, a Cup winner with both Carolina and L.A., owns a league mark with 14 points (7G, 7A) in Game 7s, and added another chapter to his playoff legend.
“Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” said Doughty. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does. There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that’s him and ‘Kopy’ (Anze Kopitar). When they have the puck, plays happen.”
Williams has set new single-season playoff career highs with eight goals, 12 assists and 20 points. He also has posted one goal and three assists in 30 career postseason games which have advanced beyond regulation .
While Williams and his teammates celebrated the thrilling OT victory, Lundqvist was the hard luck loser, stopping 40-of-43 shots. Counterpart Jonathan Quick made 25 saves.
“It’s a fast game and it happens. It’s disappointing when you lose, especially when you’re that close,” Lundqvist said. “We had a really strong start to the game and then I think they started their push late in the first. Obviously in the third they had a lot of the puck but I felt like we kept them to the outside for the most part.”
Kyle Clifford and Doughty picked up the regulation goals for the Kings, who opened up the fourth and final playoff round with their first home overtime playoff triumph in more than 13 years. L.A.’s last postseason OT win at home came when Glen Murray recorded the lone score in the Kings’ 1-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 6, 2001
Doughty made an impact on Game 1 in ways both good and bad. First came the bad, as he tried a toe drag move in the offensive zone only to have Pouliot knock the puck away from him and head the other way for a breakaway goal that handed the Rangers an early 1-0 lead. However, all was forgiven when Doughty produced a pretty goal to even the score at 2-2 in the early part of the second period. After taking a pass from Williams, the blueliner stickhandled his way through the New York zone, using a between-the- legs move to create space before beating Lundqvist with a wrister from just below the left circle.
The goal marked Doughty’s 17th point of the postseason, setting a new Kings record for most points by a defenseman in a playoffs.
New York failed to win the opening game of a series for the first time in this postseason, as it had claimed Game 1 against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montreal en route to claiming the Eastern Conference title. Teams winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the championship in 57 of 74 seasons (77 percent) since the NHL introduced the best-of-seven format in 1939.
The Rangers hope to get a boost Saturday from the likely return of defenseman John Moore, who has finished serving a two-game suspension for an illegal hit against Montreal’s Dale Weise in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Moore only has one assist in 17 games this postseason, but also has a plus- four rating. He expects to replace Raphael Diaz in the lineup for Game 2.
On Friday, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr would “probably play tomorrow.”
Regehr has been out with a knee injury suffered in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against Anaheim. He has two assists in eight playoff games this spring. Sutter did not say who Regehr could be replacing in the lineup.
After Saturday’s clash, the next two games of this series will take place in New York. Game 3 is on tap Monday at Madison Square Garden with the fourth meeting scheduled for Wednesday.