Speedy Doesn’t Work Here

It was a period one surprise for the LA Kings, who came into game one with the New York Rangers as many people’s favored team because of their size and speed and the fact that they’d been there before, of late, and had the edge in cool. People figured the Rangers would be rattled having sat around for nearly a week waiting to play and not knowing from experience the frenzy that would face them as Stanley Cup Finalists.

But the Rangers put all that to rest in the first non-stop five minutes, with speed that set the Kings back and a forecheck that turned up the puck over and over, forcing eight giveaways before the frame came to and end.

Twice they brought the puck out from behind the net and created scrums in front of the LA goal, to no effect except to suggest that they weren’t the tiny, fearful team that had presented itself to the gathered media on Wednesday.

The shots around the midway point of the period were 9-9, but the action was in favor of the Rangers, with speed galore and no shortage of energy.

As if to put the emphasis on their speed, Carl Hagelin scored when a man down at 15:03 when the Rangers were already up 1-0. That goal, incidentally, was a turnover off a steal that allowed Benoit Pouliot to rush down on a self-made breakaway and fire the puck past the far shoulder of Quick, a rocket.

So it was suddenly a two-goal deficit with Hagelin’s surprise, which came off of a backhand shot that was actually put in off the skates of the defense. At this point, the shots were about even, but the Rangers were heavy on the forecheck and buzzy around the net, collapsing the Kings back onto Quick.

But in a moment of grand redemption, Kyle Clifford scored the first LA goal. He had been at fault for two giveaways on the same play earlier in the period, one a direct feed in his own slot to Benoit Pouliot. He was fortunate that Quick bailed him out with a leg save off the left pad. But with him, Carter, and Lewis on the ice in what would be just the start of some grand line mixing by coach Sutter, Carter turned a puck up behind the New York net and threw it to Clifford, who was crashing to the right side of the cage and managed to get a stick on it about the time that the New York defense also did. It went up over the goalie’s right shoulder to make the game 2-1, as it would stay to the end of period one.

Line mixing. Starting about the last three minutes of period one and continuing until about seven to go in P2, Sutter rearranged things mightily. Here’s a sample, with the odd man on the line listed first in each case: Kopitar played with Williams and King. Richards played with Gaborik and Brown. Stoll played with Pearson and Toffoli. Then things got crazy: Carter, King, Brown; Richards, Williams, King; King, Toffoli, Carter. That last actually was used up until the end of the period, and Stoll was demoted to line four until the end as well.

Finally with one-third of a period to go, things went back more or less to normal for the LA team. This perhaps because they had tied the game, a beautiful goal by Drew Doughty after he took a pass backwards through the skates and went to the net, held the puck, and shot it past Lundqvist with some defenders in and around for a screen.

Sutter then righted his lines, mostly, and the teams went into period three with the Kings having had 21 shots and New York 22 and things still tied at twos.

Period three was all LA Kings, with two spectacular moments by the Rangers breaking up the domination. The shot totals are nearly all you need to know. With about seven minutes gone, the Kings were ahead of the Rangers by a 10-0 margin. By the end of the period, they had outshot New York by a 20-3 margin.

But their first shot was a doozy. An LA mistake turned into a New York three-on-one, which St. Louis kept rather than passing. He winged it at Quick, who made an arm save. The Kings were shortly outshooting the other side 14-1 in the frame.

Even when the Rangers held the puck in the LA end, they didn’t do much dangerous with it, but that’s the LA defense at work. They collapsed all five guys and clogged the slot so that there was no way for the Rangers to get a shot through, let alone a rebound onto their sticks.

The second great thrilling moment of the period in terms of Mr. Quick doing his magic was Hagelin on a breakaway, shorthanded. Had we seen this movie before? Oh yeah, period one. This time he took a high shot and saw Quick save it off his arm, then had the puck go up high. Quick was looking to his left, where the shot had hit him, yet it bounced down on his right side and then away.

The shorthanded chance came when Brian Boyle slashed a Kings’ player’s stick off of a faceoff in the New York end, not a good penalty to take at all. But given that Hagelin was so possessed on the evening, perhaps the NFL-style option of declining would have suited LA better.

Yet for all the action and the wide disparity in shots, and despite the Kings completely dominating in period three and having at least a few dangerous chances, the teams entered OT tied at those same two goals apiece.

The ebbs and flows of the game might be described this way: All NY early. Sutter mixes lines. Kings come back. Kings come on. New York holds on. Extra hockey.

And the Kings got what they’d worked for, which was a win on a turnover by the Rangers. Dan Girardi muffed a puck in his own zone and then when he got hold of it, put it to the point, which Mike Richards was covering on the rush. Girardi put it right on his stick and he tossed it into the slot for Williams, who held it, cruised a small stride toward the net, and put it delicately up over the shoulder of Lundqvist. It was a beauty from the guy who is known more for game seven heroics than game one.

The reactions were about what you’d expect. Sutter said afterwards that “We were not on full tanks in that first period.” But he also went off message a little bit by making comments on how good the Rangers have been. “They’ve had a good first period every game of this playoffs,” he said, “Every game.”

Going through some of the ups and downs of the game, he said, “If you’ve got to score more than three goals against this team, you’re going to have trouble.” That’s more like the focus that he usually brings to his analysis of games.

And Vigneault reacted by declaring that he had no idea what had happened to his team in the third period. “I liked the first two periods. That was a hard fought first 40 minutes by both teams. I’m not quite sure what happened in the third. I’m not sure if it was them being that good or us just stopping to move the puck and skating. They really took it to us in the third, and they were able to get a bounce on the winning goal.” He reiterated that and took the blame off of his player.

“After 40 minutes, both teams chance-wise . . . it was a pretty close game. . . . In the third, they just, they were the better team on the ice.” He said that they would make some adjustments before Saturday, when the teams play again. On the plus side, he commented that the speed they had was a big factor “for us shorthanded. We just have to be able to generate the same thing five-on-five.”

His take on the size of the Kings was simple. “You have to take the hit to make the play. We knew that coming into the series. The first 40 minutes we handled that really well; I’m not quite sure what happened in the third.” He did, honestly, seem perplexed.

The players who spoke to the media were Justin Williams and Drew Doughty. The conversation mostly focused on the OT winner by Williams and a moment in the game where Doughty was angry with the refereeing.

Williams credited the play Richards made to get the puck out of the zone and said that the play developed from there and “I was able to make the shot.” He was asked whether they could change anything, and he said, “Certainly we have a lot of things to clean up. That was not our best game by any standards.” This point was repeated later on in roughly the same words by Doughty, who was particularly unimpressed with the LA start.

“We’re not happy about the start, but we’re happy that we showed the character to come back and win tonight.”

Williams may have nailed it when he said, “We certainly weren’t ready for the speed of their wingers, I don’t think.” That could be the problem Vigneault couldn’t put his finger on: his wingers might have slowed down in P3. Or maybe the Kings figured out how to contain them. It’s something to watch for in game two, anyway.

Notes
Recognition needs to go to Kyle Clifford for his night. After the turnover mentioned earlier, he scored the first goal, assisted on the second, and had two shots and one hit on the evening. He’s not known for hands, but for effort, but you might say that he has evolved his role at least a tiny amount during this post-season and especially on this early California evening. He was awarded the second star for his work.

The final numbers looked extremely lopsided in LA’s favor, though obviously an OT 3-2 score doesn’t reflect that. Was the difference the goaltending for New York? Of course, but neither did the netminder steal the win that many think he’ll have to to give the Rangers a chance to win the series.

Twitter is @growinguphockey. If you read this, hit me up there and let me know.

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