Game 1; LA leads series 1-0
LOS ANGELES - In my preview, I suggested (like I have done many times already) that the Los Angeles Kings needed a strong start to win. But the Kings have proven (like, again, many times already) that they don't necessarily need a strong start to win hockey games. The team's top-notch resiliency gives the will game-in and game-out - and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final proved that.
With that said, it was the New York Rangers who started things off on the right foot. In Los Angeles's first-ever game hosting the opening of the Stanley Cup Final, it was the home team who fell behind early. Even with the legendary Wayne Gretzky dropping the ceremonial faceoff, the Kings found themselves with their backs to the wall instead of taking the early momentum.
13:21 into the game, Benoit Puliot wristed his fourth of the posteason - an unassisted goal - past Jonathan Quick to give the Rangers the first lead of the game. But the Blueshirts were not done there as just 1:42, Carl Hagelin cashed in with a shorthanded goal - his seventh of the playoffs - to put the road side up by a pair. Just like that, the electricity at Staples Center died down as the Rangers had control. But after generating 13 shots in the opening period, the Blueshirts managed just 14 for the remainder of the contest.
The Kings, meanwhile, while down, knew they were far from out.
Just two-and-a-half minutes after Hagelin scored, an unlikely source stepped up for the home team as Kyle Clifford wristed his first of the postseason past Henrik Lundqvist to not only put the Kings on the board but to restore that Staples Center electricity. Jeff Carter was credited with the only assist.
But after narrowly outshooting the Rangers by a 14-13 margin in the first, the Kings found themselves outshot 9-7 in the second. It didn't matter, though, as Drew Doughty fired his fifth past Lundqvist to tie the game. The goal, scored at 6:36 of the middle drame, was assisted by Justin Williams and the aforementioned Kyle Clifford.
There wasn't any scoring in the third but still plenty of quality scoring chances from both sides, even though the Kings outshot the Rangers by a whopping 20-3 margin. Nevertheless, this game was heading into overtime.
While it was up for debate which King was the best on this night, it was evident which Ranger was the best for his side. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had stood on his head as he stopped a grand total of 40 Los Angeles shots. But as great as he was in this one, his efforts alone could not help the Blueshirts pull out a win.
Just 4:36 into the first overtime, the usually-reliable New York D-manm Dan Girardi coughed up the puck in his own zone. Mike Richards then intercepted before quickly feeding a wide-open Justin Williams who made no mistake snapping his eighth past Lundqvist to seal the Game 1 victory for Los Angeles.
Like it's been in so many games this postseason, resiliency played a major factor in the Kings drawing first blood in the Stanley Cup Final. Like Game 7 of their Western Final series against Chicago, the Kings were down 2-0 early before staging a comeback to win.
While he got off to a slow start, goaltender Jonathan Quick redeemed himself - like the rest of his team - from the second period on. Quick made 25 saves en route to the victory as his Kings now head into Saturday with the early advantage.
Along with Williams, defensemen Matt Greene and Jake Muzzin each finished with a team-best +2 rating while veteran D-man Willie Mitchell was easily the most dominant King on the back end on this night, leading his side with five shots while making a number of key defensive stops along the way.
As for the aforementioned Muzzin, he co-lead the Kings in hits on this night with five - as many as Dustin Brown and Alec Martinez.
Overall, this game showed everyone just what kind of team the Los Angeles Kings are as they hope their performance in Game 1 will be a precursor of what's to come in this final series.
While he did turnover the puck on what turned out to be the game-winning goal, Dan Girardi led the Rangers with seven hits in Game 1 while Brad Richards led the way in the shots department with three.
Both teams now have an extra day off before hitting the ice again on Saturday night for Game 2, which will take place back at Staples Center.