LOS ANGELES – Those assessments that the Stanley Cup Final could never live up to the skill-filled, heart-pounding Western Conference Final between the last two NHL champions, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, might need revising.
The New York Rangers proved to be an exciting stand-in, and a Cup final that some thought might be lopsided in the Kings' favor turned out to be, in Game 1, a wildly entertaining affair through three periods – and then an encore.
Los Angeles' Justin Williams, known for his Game 7 heroics, scored at 4:36 of overtime for a 3-2 victory and 1-0 series lead.
The Kings dominated the action in the third period, at one point outshooting the Rangers 13-0.
But they couldn't put the puck in the net, missing on several good chances, most notably when forward Tyler Toffoli made a great move to the front of the goal but then fanned on a point blank attempt on New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The last minute, with the Kings on a power play, was totally wild, as the teams exchanged great scoring chances about 10 seconds apart, beginning with a great save by was wild, with the Kings on a power play, was wild, with both teams missing on great chances, including a great save by Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick on a short-handed breakaway by Carl Hagelin, who had scored on a similar play in the first period.
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Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, making up for an earlier miscue, scored the only goal in the second period, which ended in a 2-2 tie.
Doughty came in trailing the rush, took a nice pass from Williams, worked his way around a defender to the front of the goal and lifted the puck past Lundqvist.
Then he pounded the glass behind the net with both hands.
The goal was his fifth – and 17th point – of the playoffs. Doughty's point total broke his own club record – set in 2012 – for a defenseman in the playoffs.
After watching and reading and hearing about the abundant scoring skills and defensive prowess of the Kings for the past several days, the Rangers were so nonplussed that they went out and, after holding their own for half the first period, took advantage of a couple of Kings blunders and scored two goals in 102 seconds for a 2-0 lead.
The first came when Doughty, touted as a possible Conn Smythe winner, mishandled the puck just inside the blue line in the Kings' offensive zone and had it stolen by Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot.
Pouliot skated in alone against Quick and beat him high for a 1-0 lead.
Moments later, on a Kings power play, the Kings let Hagelin leak out for a pass and a 1-on-1 against Kings defenseman Slava Voynov. They were even at the red line, butt Hagelin pulled ahead of Voynov and got a good shot on Quick. The goalie stopped the shot, but the rebound ricocheted off Voynov's leg into the net and it was 2-0 Rangers.
The Kings managed to close to 2-1 late in the first on a rare goal from forward Kyle Clifford, who scored on a nice feed from behind the net by Jeff Carter. It was the first goal of the playoffs for Clifford, who had gone more than three years – and 37 postseason games -- without a goal.
For Carter, on the other hand, it was his 14th assist and 23rd point of the playoffs.