It took the longest playoff game in Kings history to end one of the gutsiest playoff games in recent memory.
The Kings were depleted and gassed after nearly two overtimes of hockey late Friday night and still had a faint chance at pulling out a win before Erik Haula sent the crowd of 18,588 fans into delirium at T-Mobile Arena with his goal 15:22 into the second overtime to give the Vegas Golden Knights a 2-1 win for a 2-0 first-round series lead.
Haula took a pass from James Neal on the right side and beat Jonathan Quick with an in-tight forehand move. Local time was appropriately 11:21 p.m., but there were no lucky numbers involved here.
With do-everything defenseman Drew Doughty watching the game in a suit in the press box because of a one-game suspension, the Kings put themselves in position to win behind 54 saves from Quick.
Rookie Paul LaDue’s first playoff goal, in the second period, equalized Alex Tuch’s power-play goal in the first period, to set in motion the white-knuckle extra sessions.
Quick was spectacular against Marc-Andre Fleury in a matchup between two playoff-tested goalies. Quick made 34 saves in regulation and another 14 in the first overtime. He helped kill a second overtime penalty to Dion Phaneuf for hooking Tomas Nosek after Nosek split Phaneuf and LaDue down the middle.
The Kings got an overtime power play too in the first session, but they couldn’t take advantage of Pierre-Edouard Bellmare’s delay-of-game penalty for sending the puck over glass.
The Kings played three defensemen with a total of two games of playoff experience in LaDue, Kevin Gravel and Oscar Fantenberg. Gravel made his NHL playoff debut after Fantenberg and LaDue made theirs in Game 1.
Jake Muzzin was not an option as he continued to wear a no-contact jersey in practice. Coach John Stevens also made a notable move to sit Alex Iafallo and put Tanner Pearson back in Iafallo’s usual spot at top line left wing.
After all that adjustment, LaDue scored the first goal of the series for the Kings, with some help from Pearson.
He wristed the puck from the right side with Pearson in front and his shot might have deflected off Vegas defenseman Derek Engelland on its way into the net. That ended a streak of nearly 96 minutes of scoreless play by the Kings to start the series.
The score was somewhat of a life preserver to the Kings. Part of their strategy to minimize Doughty’s absence was to establish more offensive zone time to take responsibility away from the defense. But they had trouble moving the puck out of their own zone and got a measly 12 shots in the first two periods.
Doughty missed his first playoff game, which ended a streak of 82 postseason games played since he entered the league in 2008, and his first game of any kind since 2014. It was no small setback to overcome. Dustin Brown compared Doughty to Hall of Fame defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer, but with more edge.
The Kings’ No.1-rated penalty kill had quashed all 16 Vegas power plays, regular season included, until Tuch’s conversion with four seconds left on a goalie-interference penalty to Kyle Clifford.
Jonathan Marchessault shot the puck wide, but the puck bounced off the boards for Tuch to swipe home nearly 15 minutes in to give Vegas and its crowd another energized start.
The Kings were outshot, 12-4, in the first period and it seemed worse from the way Vegas was grabbing the puck from the Kings at times. But the Kings eventually got back to their game to fulfill a prediction that Alec Martinez made in the morning.
“I have all the confidence in the world in this hockey club and I think we’ll rise to the occasion,” Martinez said.