The Rangers came up short in their first Stanley Cup Final game in 20 years Wednesday night, losing first an early two-goal lead, and then their grip on a 2-2 game going into the third period -- which the Los Angeles Kings dominated. In the end, they lost 3-2 in overtime on a misplay in their zone.
The puck bounced over defenseman Dan Girardi's stick in the circle to the right of Henrik Lundqvist, he recovered, and in his haste to clear, his weak pass was intercepted by Mike Richards, who fed Justin Williams. He skated in alone and beat Lundqvist top shelf with just 4:36 gone in the extra session. Williams also set up Drew Doughty for the tying goal in the second period.
"It happened so quick," Girardi said. "The pass hops over my stick, and they've got three guys in the zone. I tried to make a play in the middle, it bounced. Maybe I should have ate the puck in the corner" because his teammates had turned up ice. "The puck was bouncing all night. Just happened that one went in."
But it seemed the writing was on the wall in the third, which the Kings dominated, firing 20 shots at Lundqvist, who stopped them all, while the Rangers managed just three on Jonathan Quick.
"I'm not quite sure what happened in the third," said coach Alain Vigneault. "They took it to us. Not sure if it was them being that good or us stopping moving the puck and skating."
The loss dropped the Rangers to 2-2 in overtime this postseason. Game 2 is here on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
"We had the 2-0 lead early, but they pushed," said Martin St. Louis. "I don't feel we gave the game away. You can correct mistakes and get back at it. It's one game."
The Rangers had burst out to a 2-0 lead in the first on a breakaway goal by Benoit Pouliot and a shorthander by Carl Hagelin, but Kyle Clifford scored late in the period and Doughty, joining the rush, beat Lundqvist stickside after a pretty move to square the game at 6:36 of the second.
The Kings, who won the Western Conference finals by knocking off the Blackhawks in seven games, didn't complete the rally in the third, but so much for fatigue. They tilted the ice. With 8:17 left, St. Louis' wrister went off Quick's shoulder for the Blueshirts' first shot. "They're a good team, we've got to shut it down a lot quicker than let it go half the period (without a shot)," said Brad Richards.
The Kings had a power play for the last 1:45 when Brian Boyle's slash broke Tyler Toffoli's stick and two stunning plays closed regulation. Quick made a glove save to knock away Hagelin's try on a shorthanded breakaway, but Hagelin raced back and slid to prevent a wraparound by Jeff Carter as the puck kissed the post with about 25 seconds left.
Hagelin, the Rangers' best player besides Lundqvist, said the Blueshirts, who had 27 shots on Quick, overpassed. "We started well, then we didn't take the shots we needed. Maybe a few too many drop passes in the zone instead of just going to the net." Hagelin, who went to the net all night, almost had another clean break in with just under five minutes to go in the second, but the pursuing Kyle Clifford. who had a goal and assist, dove to swipe the puck away.
In the first, both conference champs came out of the gate flying, without a stoppage until the five-minute mark. The speed forced four Kings turnovers, and Quick pokechecked away one chance and then stopped Hagelin's shot, but was having trouble with rebounds at his feet, and the Rangers were throwing pucks at him from all angles. At the other end, Lundqvist turned away Jake Muzzin's blast, which then trickled past the post.
The teams went toe-to-toe for the first 40 minutes, but the ice began to tilt in the third period, and melted out from under the Rangers in overtime.
"When you play against such a good opponent," Vigneault said afterward, "you have to play a full game."