Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - For a short time, the New York Rangers showed the hockey world they could compete with the heavily-favored Los Angeles Kings.
By the time it was over, however, the Kings proved once again it matters little how they start, it's the finish that counts.
Los Angeles overcame an early 2-0 deficit by slowly but surely taking over the game. Henrik Lundqvist kept his Rangers in it for a while, but New York's star goaltender couldn't hold off the Kings forever as L.A. claimed the opener with a 3-2 overtime win at Staples Center.
In the end, Justin Williams beat Lundqvist with a wrister less than five minutes into OT to hand the Kings the early lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. Just like the other teams to face L.A. this postseason, the Rangers are left wondering how they can pin down a Kings team that doesn't ever seem to panic.
The Kings were coming off Sunday's Game 7 victory in Chicago, a contest L.A. won 5-4 in overtime after also starting slowly and falling behind 2-0 and 3-2. Just like in that classic Western Conference finals battle, Los Angeles showed their uncanny ability to stay calm when things are not going its way.
L.A. stumbled out of the gates again on Wednesday, but by the time the third period rolled around it was clear why the champions from two years ago were tabbed as prohibitive favorites in this series despite having already skated in 21 postseason contests.
The Kings recorded the first 13 shots on net in the final period of regulation and wound up with a 20-3 shot advantage in the third stanza. Luckily for the Rangers, Lundqvist was able to give his teammates a chance to win the game, but New York couldn't deliver the victory before the inevitable happened.
"Not quite sure what happened there in the third," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "Not sure if it was them being that good or us stopping moving the puck and skating and going north/south. They definitely took it to us in the third."
After surviving L.A.'s onslaught in the third period, the Rangers finally lost a chance to take the early series lead at the 4:36 mark of the extra session when Williams, a player known for his knack for Game 7 heroics, came through with a series tied at 0-0 for a change.
A stickhandling miscue by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi ultimately led to the game-winner. Girardi failed to control the puck in his own zone and was forced to make a desperate clearing attempt from his knees, but the disc went right to Mike Richards at the left boards. Richards calmly dished to Williams, who beat Lundqvist high on his blocker side to end the contest.
Surprisingly, it was the first OT winner in the postseason for Williams, a guy known primarily for his clutch playoff performances.
Despite the Kings displaying once again what makes them so hard to beat, all is not lost for the Rangers. Like it has in every series so far in this postseason, New York showed once again how its team speed can make it a tough team to play against as well. The next step is for the Blueshirts to prove they can utilize their speed advantage all the way through a game, and not let the Kings slowly grind them down.
"I feel when you play against such a good opponent that has all that strength you need to play a full game," Vigneault said.
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, a man known for his awkward press conferences, seemed happier than usual in his postgame comments following Game 1. Perhaps, he was thinking about how the previous two opening games of the Stanley Cup Finals also went to overtime and the winner of both of them, including his Kings in 2012, wound up taking the series.
Although the end result was a satisfying one for the hosts, the coach obviously wants to avoid another bad start when Game 2 gets underway Saturday in the City of Angels.
"You don't want to trade chances with the New York Rangers," Sutter stated. "I said it yesterday and I've said it every day. If you have to score more than three goals, you're going to have trouble. If you trade chances, in the end you're going to have trouble."
Sutter is right. Trading chance for chance can be a tough way to play, but if any team is capable of winning under those conditions, it's clearly the Kings.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE DOUGHTY
If there's one player who symbolizes the roller-coaster ride that is the Los Angeles Kings, it has to be the team's uber-talented No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty.
Doughty made an impact on Game 1 in ways both good and bad. First came the ugly side of Doughty, as he tried a toe drag move in the offensive zone only to have Benoit Pouliot knock the puck away from him and head the other way for a breakaway goal that handed the Rangers an early 1-0 lead.
However, all was forgiven when Doughty produced a highlight-reel goal to even the score at 2-2 in the early part of the second period. After taking a pass from Williams, the blueliner stickhandled his way through the New York zone, using a between-the-legs move to create space before beating Lundqvist with a wrister from just below the left circle.
The goal marked Doughty's 17th point of the postseason, setting a new Kings record for most points by a defenseman in a playoffs.
In the third period, however, Doughty let his emotions get the better of him when he argued with an official over a perceived missed call. Later in the third, he went to the box for diving after New York's Rick Nash grabbed a hold of him, negating a potential Kings' power play opportunity.
Considering all he's accomplished already as an NHLer, it's easy to forget Doughty is only 24 years old and still has a thing or two to learn about composure. After Game 1, Doughty said he tries to harness his emotions for good, but admitted he sometimes loses control.
"When I get angry, I kind of turn it on. I try to throw my emotions in the right way. Sometimes I don't," said Doughty.
Clearly, the Kings will hope for more dazzling displays of skill from Doughty in Game 2 and less of the other stuff.