The Kings of the rope-a-dope picked up right where they left off last Sunday in Chicago. After once again digging themselves a hole early in Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Kings once again found a way to climb back out in dramatic fashion, thanks to an overtime goal by who else, but Justin Williams.
Mr. Game 7 Game 1 added yet another page to his clutch-player resume when he buried a feed from Mike Richards, who picked off an errant pass from Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi less than five minutes into the overtime period. After Richards made a simple pass from the sideboards to the slot, Williams coolly walked in and uncorked a perfect shot from the hash marks that beat Henrik Lundqvist over the blocker side, giving the Kings a 1-0 lead in the series.
But while the game ended in smiles for the LA faithful, it hardly began that way – a trend that is becoming all too familiar in this postseason run. New York controlled most of the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead, and threatened to do even more damage, while the Kings’ first 10 minutes or so was akin to Bambi learning how to walk for the first time.
Perhaps it was the disparity in days off between the two teams, perhaps it was the Rangers being extra motivated by all the talk of their underdog status, but they used their elite speed and tenacity to draw first blood with tallies by Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin while capitalizing on sloppy defensive play and costly turnovers by the Kings.
However, just like we’ve seen so often in the playoffs, all this Kings team needs is a spark to turn around a game, and in Game 1 that spark came from the unlikeliest of sources: Kyle Clifford. The Big Red Dog reacted to an impromptu line pairing with Jeff Carter and not only cashed in his first goal since December 11 to make it 2-1, but made a couple incredible defensive plays to keep the Rangers from doing any more damage.
The second period was where the momentum clearly shifted toward the Kings favor, as the turnovers and their difficulties possessing the puck began to fade and their defensive zone presence began to resemble the Los Angeles squad that surrendered the fewest goals in the regular season. Add in Drew Doughty throwing in his hat for goal of the year at the 6:36 mark of the period to tie the game and the Rangers were on their heels for the remainder of the game, save for a helter-skelter last minute of regulation play.
The Kings poured on the pressure in the final 20 minutes, outshooting the Rangers 20-3 but coming up empty against Lundqvist, who finished the game with 40 saves. While playing solid in the first two periods, Lundqvist lived up to his all-world billing in the third, making a number of grade-A saves to keep his team in contention, including a miraculous diving save in the dying seconds on a Jeff Carter wrap around.
While it will be easy to shine the spotlight on Lundqvist’s third-period heroics, the goalie on the other side had just as much of an impact on the game’s outcome. Jonathan Quick, the target of ruthless scorn and doubt coming into the series with his less-than-stellar playoff numbers, turned in a gutsy 25-save performance which should be remembered for the quality of the stops he made, not the quantity. He was the best player on the ice over the games’ first 10 minutes, making several difficult stops to keep the game scoreless. Then after being victimized for two sudden goals, one on a breakaway and one deflecting off of Slava Voynov’s skate after a breakaway save, he shut the door the rest of the way.
Even though he only saw three shots in the third period – the first coming more than 10 minutes into the frame – the chances he did see were of the highest quality imaginable. The first save was a tough shoulder save off of Martin St. Louis on a two-on-one, then he stymied Hagelin on a breakaway with less than a minute left.
The Kings can take solace in the fact that they played a subpar game, took an early haymaker from their opponent and still escaped with a Game 1 victory. They learned that they can find a way to overcome an incredible performance by Lundqvist (a feat they will probably have to repeat a few more times), and they should be more prepared to deal with the Rangers’ speed moving forward. The post-game sentiment by the Kings showed that they are well aware they got away with one, and that vast improvements are necessary to continue to enjoy success in this series.
Game 2 will be a pivotal game in this series, as the Rangers are going to throw everything they have at the Kings after suffering what can only be described as a demoralizing loss. LA needs to follow up their opening victory and snuff out any type of rebound performance from New York, especially with the series shifting to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4, where the Rangers will undoubtedly have some extra jam in their favor.
Other Stuff and Things
-I was getting tired of everyone and their mother gushing about the Rangers speed heading into the series, but holy moley am I scared of their speed after watching Game 1. Their tenacity and quickness both out of their own end, on the forecheck, and in faceoff situations is terrifying, especially when your defense is not controlling the puck like the Kings’ were early in the game. Haglin, Kreider and Pouliot showed they can break a game open by themselves, and they nearly did in the first period. I’m not sure how to go about containing them, but it needs to be the top priority for the Kings heading into Game 2.
Actually I do have an idea.
-While I don’t think Ryan McDonagh is deserving of the all the incessant praise he was getting before and during the game, he is an extremely dangerous weapon on the blue line. LA is going to need to know where he is at all times, especially when the Rangers have sustained offensive zone time.
-Speaking of undue praise, the NBC crew’s East Coast bias could not have been more apparent last night. From Olczyk and Pierre’s fawning over McDonagh and lamenting over why he wasn’t a Norris finalist while simultaneously ignoring the similar plays Doughty was making, to Pierre’s attempts at antagonizing Sutter in the first period during their on-the-bench interview. Lucky for LA the broadcast crew doesn’t have any bearing on the outcome of the games, or else they would be in trouble.
-Sutter’s interview was another classic:
Pierre: “How is your start troubling, with all of your turnovers?”
Daryl: “We’re playing great as far as I’m concerned.”
Mr. Sutter can see what you are trying to do Pierre, and he does not like it.
-The power play. Woof. I know the PP has never been the Kings’ bread and butter but it can’t be a liability like it was last night. Zero shots over their first three opportunities, several odd-man rushes against and Hagelin’s shorty. It doesn’t need to be clicking at 50% but it can’t give the Rangers momentum every time it takes the ice.
-Willie Mitchell played phenomenal. He made a couple backcheck plays that made him look like he was 25 again, and he nearly scored on a cannon in the third period.
-Voynov played the opposite of phenomenal. He’s been fighting the puck for most of the playoffs, and the goal off his skate, while primarily a bad bounce, just adds insult to injury. He is long overdue for an upswing. If Doughty, Muzzin and Martinez can keep factoring in the offense and Slava can recover his game, look out.
-Everyone knows it is not a Kings playoff run until Greener is bleeding from the eyeballs. It is a playoff run now.
Face Time Baby.
-This was neat.
-Game 2 is massive. If the Kings can go up two-rip then steal one at MSG, they take a 3-1 lead back to Staples for a chance to close things out at home. And we all know the Kings are automatic with a 3-1 series lead right? (Rimshot)
-See you on Saturday, Go Kings Go.