Despite a valiant 40-save effort by Henrik Lundqvist and an early 2-0 lead, the Rangers lost Game One of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night at the Staples Center by the score of 3-2. Game Two of the best-of-seven series will be played in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Justin Williams scored the winner after a Dan Girardi defensive zone turnover 4:36 into overtime. After the puck hopped over his stick under forecheck pressure, Girardi recovered and dropped to a knee, before sliding an errant pass on to the stick of Kings center Mike Richards while trying to clear it out of the zone. LA had numbers down low against Lundqvist and Williams finished with a hard snap shot which beat the Rangers goaltender to the blocker side for his eighth of the playoffs, lifting the Kings to a 1-0 Stanley Cup Final lead.
"The puck bounced over Dan's stick, and I'm not sure what he could do there, it was an unlucky bounce on our part and a fortunate bounce on their part," explained Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "It was a bang-bang play where we're going north-south because we thought the puck was moving. I think when you play such a good opponent you need to play a full game, and tonight, for whatever reason, we just weren't good enough in the third."
Lundqvist was solid throughout, and exceptional in the third period. He opened the third with a pair of brilliant saves on Anze Kopitar and then stood tall as the Kings recorded the first 13 shots of the period before New York finally countered with its first--on a Martin St. Louis 2-on-1 left-wing wrist shot nearly 12 minutes into the period. Lundqvist also made an exceptional diving poke-check to deny a Tyler Toffoli drive to the net with under six minutes to play in the third, and the score still tied 2-2.
In all Lundqvist made 20 saves in the third period as the Rangers were outshot 20-3. However both teams had a chance to win the game in the final minute of regulation with Los Angeles on the power play as first Jonathan Quick made a shoulder save on Carl Hagelin's shorthanded slap shot with 40 seconds to play and then Lundqvist made a diving stop on Jeff Carter's wraparound attempt along the goal line nine seconds later.
"It was intense...obviously there were a couple close calls," Lundqvist said of the third period.
Added Vigneault, "(Lundqvist) was the reason why we went to overtime. He gave us a chance; and a lot of times when you go to overtime it's a bounce, a shot. Tonight they got it."
The Rangers raced--literally and figuratively--to a 2-0 first-period lead, but the resilient Kings got one back late in the opening stanza and then pulled even early in the second, and that 2-2 score carried the two teams into the second intermission with the visitors holding a slim 22-21 shots advantage.
With Lundqvist and Quick exchanging sharp saves in the early going--Quick denying an open Chris Kreider from in front less than two minutes into play and robbing St. Louis on a rebound from the slot at 9:12, and Lundqvist responding by staring down a Jake Muzzin snap shot through traffic at 5:10--the Rangers and Kings fought hard to score the first goal of the series. Then at 13:21 Benoit Pouliot took advantage of a rare Drew Dought turnover to open the scoring.
Giving in to pressure from Pouliot, Doughty coughed the puck up at the blue line, and after Muzzin--his defense partner--fell down, Pouliot took off on a clear breakaway. Skating in with speed on right wing Pouliot snapped his fourth goal of the playoffs to the far side past Quick's stick at 13:21 to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, with the Rangers trying to kill off a Mats Zuccarello holding penalty, Hagelin upped the visitors lead to 2-0. Moments after using his speed to set up Brian Boyle for a quality shorthanded scoring chance that was denied by Quick, Hagelin took off on a partial breakaway, again using his elite-level speed to gain separation with the Kings defense after a head-man pass from Boyle. Hagelin's backhand shot hit Quick in the pads, but the puck then deflected into the net after caroming off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov at 15:03.
The goal was Hagelin's team-high seventh of the playoffs, and his, and the team's, second while shorthanded this post-season.
"We were playing well," shared alternate captain Marc Staal. "It's disappointing that we didn't finish the same way we started the game. We can't sit on the lead."
Before the Rangers could even think about leaving the ice with a two-goal lead after twenty minutes of play, the Kings cut into their lead with 2:27 to play in the first. Following a failed clearing attempt by the Rangers, LA's Jeff Carter won a puck battle behind the net, slipping a pass to Kyle Clifford at the left post. Clifford, who had established good position on Staal, chipped his first goal of the playoffs past Lundqvist, and the Rangers lead was now 2-1.
Doughty atoned for his giveaway on Pouliot's game-opening goal, by netting a beauty of his own 6:36 into the second period, tying the game, 2-2. Williams, who mere seconds before was sent flying into the back boards on a thunderous check delivered by Ryan McDonagh, slid a cross-ice pass from right to left to Doughty, and the Kings star d-man just alluded the stick of Derek Dorsett to skate in alone on Lundqvist, beating the Rangers netminder under the right arm for his fifth goal of the post-season.
"We certainly know we can play better," said Staal, who was on ice for each of the Kings first two goals. "We had a great start, that first period and a half we were really good. We let them get back in the game; and that third period was a snowball thing."
As the game moved along, the physical play was ratcheted up. Anton Stralman delivered a pair of crunching hits in the neutral zone in the second period--one that leveled Kings captain Dustin Brown and another that wiped out Clifford--and McDonagh was flinging bodies away from Lundqvist's crease repeatedly.
Derick Brassard was penalized for boarding Brown at 6:45 of the second, and after emerging from the penalty box he was a target the rest of the way from angry Kings players. Mike Richards crossed the line, however, when his stick caught Brassard in the face with 1:19 to play in the second, earning the former Flyer a slashing penalty.
The Rangers failed to convert on that power play and were 0-for-3 on the night. However the Rangers were solid on the penalty kill, posting a perfect 4-for-4 performance in the series opener Wednesday, including a big-time kill of Girardi's hooking penalty 2:37 into the third period and another after Boyle was whistled for slashing with just 1:36 remaining in regulation.
Eighteen Rangers made their Stanley Cup Final debut--including backup goaltender David LeNeveu who dressed in the place of the injured Cam Talbot. The only two Rangers with prior Finals experience who played Wednesday night were 2004 Stanley Cup champions Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis.
"Tomorrow we wake up and we move on," explained St. Louis, who recorded two of the team's 27 shots in Game One. "I thought we did a lot of good things. We will correct the mistakes and get right back at it."
New York ended up being outshot by a wide margin--43-27--and were also credited with 12 fewer hits--45-33--in the contest. The one area the Rangers bested the Kings was in turnovers, where they forced LA into 18 giveaways, though it was New York that made the game-deciding turnover in overtime.
"I think it was a good hockey game," stated Derek Stepan. "Unfortunately we came out on the wrong end of it, but I think we take the next couple of days and learn from it, and we get ourselves ready for a big Game Two."