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Kings make a meal of a Big Apple turnover

Los Angeles KingsColumnSportsIce HockeyHenrik LundqvistCarl HagelinJustin Williams
Kings, trailing New York Rangers 2-0, looked to have run out of breath
Justin Williams' goal in OT lifts Kings and starts Staples Center roaring
Says Justin Williams: 'We certainly don't want to make a habit out of this'

Staples Center was so quiet, you could have heard a tooth drop. The Kings looked so exhausted, it was if they were skating through a natural nightmare.

"Sometimes … it's quicksand," said Trevor Lewis.

That was Wednesday's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final for the heavily favored hometown guys. It was quicksand. They were churning, then they were sinking, and their fans were mostly staring.

Early in the game, Bailey, the team's 6-foot-4 lion mascot, felt compelled to hold up a sign that read "Stand up, it's the Cup," as if to remind everyone suffering from an apparent Blackhawks hangover that this new series was, like, way more important. Late in the game, the Kings required the services of videotaped cheerleader Will Ferrell to remind the crowd of their favorite three-word chant.

But the entire evening felt like Go-Kings-Stop. This didn't seem like two years ago. This didn't even seem like two weeks ago. This Kings team that trailed the New York Rangers and royal goalie Henrik Lundqvist by two goals before eventually forcing an overtime looked as if it had finally run out of breath.

Then suddenly the chant, as it has done throughout the past six weeks, changed again with a play that defined not only a team, but could eventually define a series.

Go-Kings-Boom!

Barely four minutes into overtime, the Rangers' Dan Girardi tried to clear the puck out of the Rangers' zone. He whiffed. Mike Richards controlled the loose puck and passed to Justin Williams, who swatted it past Lundqvist and into a building-shaking roar that could echo into next week.

It is not enough to say the Kings simply won Game 1 in overtime, 3-2. This was no mere win. This was theft. This was escape. This is one the Rangers could remember long into the summer. This might have been their best chance to control this series, and it floated away from them like that puck off Girardi's stick, and today the Kings are fighting to keep from smiling.

"We keep playing like that, it's going to bite you in the you know what," said Lewis.

Oh, but this game didn't even leave a mark, and did you know that 77% of the teams that have won Game 1 of the Final have eventually won the Cup?

"We didn't do a lot of things right, that's not the way we want to play," said Drew Doughty.

Yeah, well, they did at least three things right, and did you know the last two teams to win Game 1 of the Final in overtime have won the Cup, including the Kings two years ago against the New Jersey Devils?

"We certainly don't want to make a habit out of this," said Williams.

"A lot of things were going awry during the game. We certainly have to clean that up."

Yet afterward, the only thing that required cleaning up was the Rangers smoldering dressing room, filled with guys with the vacant eyes of someone who had just been sucker punched.

"It's disappointing," said Lundqvist, pulling his Rangers baseball cap low over his wet hair. "We were that close."

How must the greatest goalie in the world feel after stopping 20 Kings shots in the third period alone, after stopping 40 of 43 shots overall, and still skating away with fans jeering his slumped form? Lundqvist unblinkingly acknowledged that on the final duel with Williams, he blinked first.

"I felt like I was patient, but I still made the first move, I probably could play that a little better," he said.

"It always easy to look back and have the right answer."

Easy for some, harder for others, like Girardi, who continually took deep breaths in apparent shock as he sat gamely in front of his locker afterward, rubbing his red blotched nose while trying to explain his one whiff that became strike three.

"I'm not going to dwell on it," he said. "The play happened so quick, I see guys breaking to the middle, try to pass it, it bounces over my stick."

Good luck with that not-dwelling thing. Good luck with the Rangers getting past the fact that 15 minutes into the game, they have given Lundqvist a 2-0 lead against a Kings team that looked lost.

"It was one of those nights when we just didn't have it," said Lewis. "I don't think we were energized as a hockey club, we were a lot slower when we usually are…. We have more than that."

They gave up their first goal on a turnover by Doughty that turned into a breakaway for Benoit Pouliot, and their second goal when Slava Voynov was beaten to a loose puck by Carl Hagelin and eventually kicked in the rebound of Hagelin's breakaway shot.

"We have to look ourselves in the mirror and be better prepared next game," said Doughty.

The Kings feel like this even though they tied the score on goals by Kyle Clifford and Doughty, and even though they eventually outshot the Rangers 43-27. They feel like this because they lost some physical battles with the Rangers, and were sometimes slower than the Rangers, and would have lost if Jonathan Quick didn't make a splendid stop on a Hagelin breakaway late in the game.

"Quickie made a great save, or we wouldn't be sitting here right now," he said.

But Quick did stand on his head, and the Kings are indeed sitting here with a one-game-to-none lead that feels like four times that much.

"We feel like we got away with one, and we did," said Lewis.

The Kings know it. More important, so do the Rangers.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles KingsColumnSportsIce HockeyHenrik LundqvistCarl HagelinJustin Williams
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