Column: Kings have the will, find a way to beat Rangers in Game 1

Kings defenseman Alec Martinez and goalie Jonathan Quick look for the puck behind the net while teammate Matt Greene knocks Rangers forward Derek Dorsett out of the crease during the second period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Is there no end to the Kings’ resilience, no situation too dire for them to wiggle out of, even if they skate off with the hair at the ends of their lengthy playoff beards singed from the flames they just escaped?

Heavy-legged Wednesday in the first period of their Stanley Cup Final opener at Staples Center, they watched the speedy New York Rangers breeze by them and build a two-goal lead. “I think maybe the trainers put gumboots in our stalls instead of skates today,” defenseman Willie Mitchell said.

By the third period, they played as if they had wings on their feet. Justin Williams, best known as Mr. Game 7 for his clutch play in the Kings’ first three playoff rounds, became Mr. Game 1 when he took a feed from Mike Richards and wristed a shot from the slot 4 minutes 36 seconds into overtime. That gave the Kings another implausible comeback victory, this by Coach Darryl Sutter’s favorite score, 3-2.


Amazing? Incredible?

It’s just the way the Kings roll.

“That’s the way we do it. We never give up,” winger Tyler Toffoli said. “We keep fighting and keep going and never give up on ourselves and just keep playing to our strength.”

This was their third comeback from a two-goal deficit in these playoffs and second straight, following the rally Sunday at Chicago that lifted them past the Blackhawks, clinched the Western Conference title, and made them the first NHL team ever to reach the Stanley Cup Final by winning three seven-game series.

They staged their other two-goal comeback in Game 2 at Chicago, erasing a 2-0 Blackhawks lead and turning it into a 6-2 rout.

Before that, of course, the Kings pulled off the ultimate rally after losing the first three games of their first-round series against the Sharks and clinched the series at San Jose. They followed that by winning the final two games of their second-round series against the Ducks, also winning Game 7 on the road.

The Rangers might have scouted the Xs and O’s of the Kings’ success but probably didn’t get a good measure of the Kings’ collective determination.

Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault — who knows the Kings well from his seven seasons as coach of the Vancouver Canucks — seemed dazed Wednesday.

“I thought for 40 minutes we handled it real well. Not quite sure what happened in the third there,” he said. “I liked the way we played in the first two periods. I thought it was a hard-fought first 40 minutes by both teams.

“Not quite sure what happened there in the third. Not sure if it was them being that good or us stopping moving the puck and skating and going north-south.”

It was mostly the Kings being that good. Each round, with the stakes progressively higher, the Kings have found ways to adjust mentally and tactically and play whatever style is necessary to prevail.

That pattern continued Wednesday, when Kyle Clifford cut their deficit to 2-1 before the first period ended and an emotional Drew Doughty tied it at 6:36 of the second period. That bought them time to get their legs and hit their stride, which they did in pelting Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 20 shots in third period.

Their own goalie, Jonathan Quick, bought them even more time with a brilliant save on Carl Hagelin’s breakaway in the last minute of regulation time.

“I guess it’s something you don’t want to make a habit of,” Quick said of the Kings’ comebacks, “but it’s good to know that if you get put in situations like that, that we are capable of bouncing back and doing what we have to do.”

It’s not just what they have to do—it’s what they know they can do.

“There’s no doubt that we believe that any hockey game is within reach for us,” Mitchell said. “It goes deeper than this year. It goes back to 2012 when we made a run and overcame a lot of odds to get in the playoffs. When you have success and you win, you have a belief that anything is possible, and our group definitely has character and can rise to the challenge on most occasions.”

To a man, the Kings said they must be better to win again, that Wednesday’s performance was far from their best.

“That is a world-class team up there with world-class offense,” Williams said. “There could have been a lot of story lines tonight.”

The Kings’ resilience ensured there was only one story, and it had a happy ending for them. Again.

Twitter: @helenenothelen