LOS ANGELES, Calif. – If you want to bury the Los Angeles Kings, you better dig a deep hole and bring a lot of nails. Because they’re coming back at you.
Captain Dustin Brown accounted for the latest Houdini-like escape, scoring at 10:26 of double overtime Saturday night as the Kings rallied to defeat New York 5-4 and leave the Rangers in a 2-0 hole in the Stanley Cup final.
The Los Angeles captain ended the second-longest night in Kings history (the longest was 31:40 of overtime against Chicago on June 8, 2013) by tipping in a Willie Mitchell shot from the point.
The Kings become the first team in Stanley Cup playoffs history to overcome a two-goal deficit to win three consecutive games. They also did it in Game 7 of the Western Conference final in Chicago (a 5-4 OT win) and Game 1 of the Cup final (3-2 OT).
They have gone 7-0 in elimination games during these playoffs. Amazingly the favoured Kings have yet to lead in the Cup final, pulling ahead only in OT both games.
“The way we play, everyone’s talking about how we come back. I think it’s more how we turn the tide of the game over the course of the game,” said Brown. “We’re not worried about scoring the game-winning goal. We’re just worried about playing our game and grinding away.
“It starts with one (goal) and that’s what our mentality is. Whether we’re down two, up two, the situation doesn’t change for us … the mentality of our team is very black and white.”
Added Anze Kopitar: “It’s not encouraging to get down, but it seems like when we do get down that desperation kicks in. I think we showed that again tonight.”
“Sometimes we do play our best hockey when we are desperate,” he added.
The series switches to Madison Square Garden with games Monday and Wednesday and the odds are heavily on the side of never-say-die Los Angeles, which trailed by two goals on three different occasions Saturday.
New York coach Alain Vigneault tried to look for positives.
“I think we’ve played close to nine periods now. For the most part I’ve liked a lot of things about our game,” he said. “Our guys are trying real hard. We’re going to continue to try. I mean, both games we had opportunities. We didn’t get it done.
“We’re going home in front of our great fans. We’re going to be ready for the next game.”
If anyone is desperate, it’s the Rangers now. They have a huge boulder to roll up the Cup final hill.
Home teams sweeping Games 1 and 2 of the final have won 32-of-35 series (.914 per cent) since the championship series went to a best-of-seven format in 1939.
The only positive for New York is the Penguins (2009) and Bruins (2011) both came back from losing the first two games of the final away from home to take the Cup.
“We all battled. I battled,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “When you play five periods, obviously the difference is not very big.”
Brown helps set the Kings battling tone, according to teammate Jarret Stoll. It was the captain’s fifth career post-season game-winner.
“Hard, physical, leads by his play,” Stoll said of Brown. “Big part of our team, huge part of our team. No other guy should have the C on his jersey, that’s for sure. Big goals, big plays, big games. He does it all.”
It marks the first time ever that Games 1 and 2 of the Cup final have gone to overtime three straight years (L.A-New Jersey in 2012 and Chicago-Boston in 2013). Prior to that, it had been 61 years since the opening two games of the final went to extra time.
It was also the fourth OT game for the Kings in their last five outings and the fourth for the Rangers in their past six. The overall OT record for the two in these playoffs is 4-3 for Los Angeles and 2-3 for New York.
It’s been a marathon playoff journey for both teams. Saturday’s game was the 23rd of the post-season and 105th of the campaign for the Kings. It was No. 22 and 104, respectively, for the Rangers.
Stoll, Mitchell, Dwight King and Marian Gaborik scored for Los Angeles before a sellout crowd of 18,532 at Staples Center. Justin Williams had three assists.
The Kings have scored three-plus goals in eight consecutive games.
Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Martin St. Louis and Derick Brassard replied for the Rangers, who jumped into a 2-0 lead for the second game in a row.
Los Angeles outshot New York 32-29 in regulation time, including 12-7 in the third. The shots were 8-6 for the Rangers in the first overtime and 6-1 for the Kings in the second.
“Usually it’s not a very pretty (OT) goal and that’s what happened tonight,” said Kopitar. “I know it’s a cliche but every shot’s a good shot in OT and if turned out to be that way.”
Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick of the Kings once again lived up to their reputations, with some stellar stops on the night.
New York led the hit count 51-50 with Chris Kreider accounting for nine alone.
The Rangers turned the screws early in overtime, pressuring the Kings who were forced to call their time out five minutes in after an icing. Lundqvist had to deal with a nasty tip before Kreider hit Quick and the post.
With Kings forward Jeff Carter off for goalie interference, penalty killer King shot wide on a glorious chance. Kreider then shot wide on a breakaway.
Lundqvist stopped Gaborik early in the second OT. Quick then had to make two rapid-fire saves, one off Rick Nash.
After losing the opener, Vigneault challenged his players to bring their A game and they responded. Unlike Wednesday, the Rangers raised their game when Los Angeles pushed back.
But the Kings refused to lie down, clawing their way back from a 4-2 deficit with two goals in the third period.
With New York leading 2-0 after the first, there were four goals in an eventful second period that saw both teams trade goals while scoring two apiece. Three of the goals came in a 3:36 stretch—including two in 11 seconds.
Trailing 4-2 after two periods, the Kings narrowed the gap at 1:58 of the third with King tipping in a Matt Greene shot from the blue-line. The puck banged off King as he jousted with McDonagh in front of a helpless Lundqvist.
Asked if King’s goal was the result of goalie interference, Vigneault said: “Ask the NHL.”
Lundqvist just asked for consistency in calls.
Los Angeles pulled even at 7:36 with Gaborik beating Lundqvist for his 13th of the playoffs after McDonagh fell on a clearing attempt.
The first period has belonged to New York in the post-season. The third has been the Kings’ domain.
The Rangers have outscored their opposition 25-11 in the first period these playoffs. The Kings have outscored opponents 29-16 in the third.
McDonagh opened the scoring at 10:48 with a shot from the point after a Williams giveaway behind the goal. Dominic Moore retrieved the puck and McDonagh’s shot went through traffic, deflecting off Stoll for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Zuccarello extended the lead at 18:46 with his fifth goal, racing into the Los Angeles zone after a Matt Greene turnover at the New York blue-line. The Kings—chasing the speedy Rangers—couldn’t clear the puck and Zuccarello beat Kopitar to the puck at the corner of the goal, stuffing it in after McDonagh’s shot hit him.
New York outshot the Kings 10-9 in a physical first period that saw L.A. outhit the Rangers 18-16.
McDonagh went to the dressing room with a goal, an assist and three hits. Brown, the victim of a McDonagh cross-check in the period, was also getting his hands dirty with four hits.
Stoll pulled one back at 1:46 of the second period after a Brad Richards turnover in his own end. Williams ended up with the puck, sending a backhand pass to Stoll with Quick sliding out of the goal after stopping a weak shot from the point. Stoll fired the shot past defenceman Kevin Klein for his third of the playoffs.
As in Game 1, Los Angeles came on in the second, winning battles and banging bodies.
St. Louis blunted the Kings’ comeback with a power-play goal at 11:24 with Los Angeles penalized for too many men on the ice. The Los Angeles defence was slow to react to an attack and Derek Stepan slid the puck over to St. Louis for a one-timer from his favourite spot at the faceoff circle. It was his seventh of the playoffs and the 40th of his post-season career (he is the 12th active player to reach the milestone).
Mitchell trimmed the lead to 3-2 with a power-play goal at 14:39 on a shot from the blue-line as King screened Lundqvist.
But the Rangers responded 11 seconds later, upping their lead to 4-2.
Off the ensuing faceoff, the puck ended up behind the L.A. net from a shoot-in. Quick went to leave it for Mitchell, who flubbed the clearance. Zuccarello got the puck out to Brassard, who snapped home a wrist shot with Quick all turned around. It was his sixth of the playoffs.
The sequence marked the fastest two goals in the Cup final in 67 years. The record is two goals in 10 seconds, set in 1936 and 1947.
John Moore returned from his two-game suspension to join Klein on the Rangers’ third defensive pairing. But the Kings opted not to use veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr, who has been out injured since Game 1 of the Anaheim series.