By Brian Cazeneuve
Hollywood loves a good comeback story. The Kings have given Los Angeles three in a row. For the third straight game, they overcame a two-goal deficit to snag a victory. On Saturday, they trailed the New York Rangers 2-0, and 4-2, in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final before Dwight King and former Ranger Marian Gaborik scored goals in the third period and Dustin Brown deflected Willie Mitchell’s shot past Henrik Lundqvist at 10:26 of the second overtime to give the Kings a 5-4 win -- L.A.’s fifth two-goal comeback in its last eight games.
It was a frenetic game that befits a wild playoff season with contests that have been rich with plot twists. The Kings also rallied from down 2-0 against the Rangers in Game 1 on Wednesday and in the seventh game of the Western Conference Final against Chicago three days earlier. No team had ever won three straight postseason games in which it rallied from a two-goal deficit. “You have to be able to come back,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “You’re not going to lead every game.”
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Sure, coming back just seems to be the Kings' way. Making mistakes and falling behind are the flaws of a team that has opened up its system, but it's a credit to the Kings' resilience that they are able to overcome those setbacks and win games anyway. “If we do this too often,” Mitchell said, “we’re going to get burned. Some nights it’s a formula for success; other times, it’s a formula for trouble.”
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This is the third straight year in which the first two games of the Cup final have gone to overtime. The Kings were on the winning end in 2012, beating New Jersey in extra time of the first two games in that series. On Saturday night, five Kings scored on Henrik Lundqvist. Justin Williams, the gamer who usually picks L.A. up in key moments of pressure games, including scoring the overtime winner in Game 1, recorded three assists. Both goalies had highlights and lowlights, as Lundqvist faced 44 shots and Jonathan Quick 38.
In between Game 1 and 2, Kings players spoke at length about wanting to get off to a better start than the one that left them two goals down in the first period on Wednesday. But even with the benefit of two extra days of rest, L.A. looked sluggish after the opening whistle. New York recorded the game’s only four shots on goal over the first 4:30 of play. When Williams had a breakaway three minutes later, he lost control of the puck and left it behind him as he was skating in alone on Lundqvist. The Kings did not manage a shot during that rush.
New York scored twice in the opening period to grab the early lead, thanks to some superb work by defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has only gotten better as the playoffs have gone along. New York took advantage of a Kings turnover and McDonagh’s long shot beat Quick at 10:58. The Rangers increased their lead to 2-0 with 1:14 to play in the period after Quick was unable to get a piece of a shot by McDonagh that hit two bodies near the net. Ranger winger Mats Zuccarello was there to pounce on the rebound and stuff it in from the doorstep. (Yes, trivia buffs, that makes Zuccarello the first Norwegian to score a goal in a Stanley Cup Final.)
"We played well," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We gave ourselves a chance.”
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And that’s the hard part for the Rangers. There isn’t one glaring area to focus on for instant improvement. “We’ve played nine periods now,” the coach added. “For the most part, I’ve liked our game.”
There was a lot to like. The Rangers forced the Kings into 33 giveaways on the night. Even taking the game's five periods into consideration, that’s a number of gifts the tight and secure Kings of 2012 would have needed several games to dispense. But veteran teams like theirs, which is two seasons removed from its last title, find ways to persevere. The Rangers have generally matched their speed, their aggression and their goaltending, but the teams that have been there before are usually the opportunistic ones. “We don’t try to tie the game on one shift,” said Brown. “We just try to play our game. We play the next shift.”
They had to do that several times on Saturday, after L.A.’s Jarret Stoll and New York’s Martin St. Louis traded goals in the second period. With the Rangers up 3-1, Mitchell drove a 55-footer through a screen with the Kings on the power play to cut the deficit to one. He’s a prime example of how the Kings are getting widespread contributions from their defense.
Still, the Rangers appeared to have the answers. Just 11 seconds after Mitchell struck, Derick Brassard increased New York's lead to two again, a margin that held until King's controversial goal at 1:58 of the third when he made contact with Lundqvist, first with his stick and then with his body as Matt Greene drove a shot at the Ranger goal. King was given credit for the tally, but the Rangers pleaded for an interference call. Asked about the non-call after the game, Vigneault simply said, “Ask the NHL.”
Again, the Kings jumped on an opportunity--and a free puck. Gaborik tucked the tying goal behind Lundqvist from the doorstep at 7:36 of the third as the Rangers' Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and McDonagh stood nearby, all trying to get a piece of the puck. “It’s the kind of play they’ve been making a little better than us,” Lundqvist said.
The Kings have now played 13 periods of hockey in their last three games. They have seemingly run on emotion and rallies so far. “It’s fun for the fans,” said Mike Richards. “I’m sure we’ve been more entertaining than we would have liked. But 4-1 games are better for us.”
To get one of those in New York on Monday, the Kings will need to update their script with fewer slips and surprises, but adversity has been enough to draw the resilience from them. “We can still clean a lot of things up,” said L.A. defenseman Drew Doughty. “We can stop the slow starts and stop making it hard on ourselves.”
But so far, the slips have been turning this Stanley Cup Final into quite a show.
The Kings and Rangers will meet in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night in New York at 8 p.m. ET (NBC, CBC, RDS).