LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Kings lead the New York Rangers two-games-to-none in the Stanley Cup Final.
Yet that’s the only lead they’ve had against them in the series.
The teams have played 156 minutes and 2 seconds of hockey. The Kings have led the Rangers for exactly none of them; the only time they’ve had more goals than the Eastern Conference champs is when the final horn sounded after overtime tallies by Justin Williams in Game 1 and Dustin Brown in double overtime of Game 2.
“We’re not happy with how we started these two games, at all,” said defenseman Willie Mitchell. “We’ve had terrible starts the last two games. No rhyme or reason for it. It’s not a place we want to be in, having to climb out of them all the time.”
The good news is that the Kings have rallied from two goals or more deficits in four of their last five games. The bad news is, of course, that they’ve had those deficits to begin with.
In each of the last three games, the Kings have given up two first-period goals – to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final and to the Rangers in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
They’ve won each of those games. Inexplicably.
“We’re doing things that aren’t in our game. That haven’t been in our game for years here. And we’re getting away with it,” said Jarret Stoll, who joined the Kings in 2008. “We gotta be honest with how we’re playing. We know we got a lot more [to give].”
“We’re all well aware what Stolli just said,” said Brown, the team’s captain. “I understand we can’t [keep doing this]. But I understand the kind of guys we have in this room.”
The players are the reason why the Kings can play with fire but not end up getting torched. Game 2 saw Stoll begin the rally; Mitchell continue it; Dwight King grind out a goal by getting physically tangled with Henrik Lundqvist; Marian Gaborik score his NHL–best 13th goal of the postseason; and Brown, the captain, scoring his fifth on a hard-nosed play at the net.
At the heart of the rally: Justin Williams, the team’s Mr. Game 7 and Game 1 hero, tallying assists on three of the five goals.
“I think I’m pretty much just going to regurgitate what we said after last game: It’s a terrible start,” said Williams. “Able to come back and get a big win in overtime. Games could have gone either way, but we found a way.’’
Defenseman Jake Muzzin finds the whole thing puzzling. “I don’t know what the heck is going on. We’re giving them two and we’re coming back a couple times now,” he said.
That said, Muzzin said it comes back to the players.
“It’s hard to explain but we’ve got a calm belief in here that we can win every game no matter what the score is and no matter what the situation is. The experience, the leadership, the guys around, guys making big plays when we need to make them and [Jonathan Quick] making big saves when we need him to is giving us confidence.”
Center Anze Kopitar had a theory, too. “It’s not encouraging to get down, but it seems like when we do get down, that desperation kicks in,” he said.
“Sometimes we do play our best hockey when we’re desperate. With more sense of urgency than when we start.“
The Kings became the first team in NHL history to rally and win three straight playoffs games in which they have a deficit of more than one goal. They’ve won three Game 7s on the road. They’ve won five of the 11 games in which they’ve trailed after the first period. They rallied three times in Game 2 before outlasting the Rangers in double-overtime.
Do the Kings simply have to feel the wall against their backs to play at their best?
“It’s sure lookin’ like it right now,” said Mitchell.
“We don’t want to stay in that spot. It’ll get you sooner than later.”