Kyle Clifford plays a new role for Kings in opener — goal scorer

New York Rangers defenseman Raphael Diaz, bottom, clears the puck out of the defensive zone in front of Kings forward Kyle Clifford during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kyle Clifford spent part of Tuesday calming fears that a practice shot he fired hadn’t rendered Kings goalie Jonathan Quick useless for the Stanley Cup Final.

A night later, the Kings’ forward eased the home crowd’s concerns that Game 1 was slipping away.

Clifford scored his first goal of this postseason, then delivered a secondary assist on Drew Doughty’s tying goal in what became a 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Rangers at Staples Center.


Of all the players who could’ve been the first to break through against Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Clifford was the best last choice.

Clifford ended a 37-game playoff goal drought dating to April 23, 2011. His most recent goal this season was Dec. 11.

“Just saving it,” Clifford cracked. “Timing.”

The lightly used fourth-line forward is usually restricted to 10 minutes or less per game, providing grunt work that includes hitting and enforcing. He led the Kings in penalty minutes during the regular season.

With New York leading, 2-0, Clifford set up his own goal by knocking down an attempted Rangers pass with his stick, the puck going to Kings forward Jeff Carter. He scooted it back to Clifford for a close shot from Lundqvist’s right that went to the roof of the net with 2 minutes 27 seconds left in the first period.

“It wasn’t the start we wanted,” Clifford said. “We talked about getting more pressure on this guy. We know he’s a good goalie. We saw those big saves all night, and said, ‘We’ve got to … have a little more effort.’”

Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said Clifford’s goal set the tone for the team’s third comeback win from a two-goal deficit in the last seven games.


“Cliffy’s a guy who’s strong on the puck and can generate a forecheck,” Mitchell said. “A lot of times, that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but it forces defensemen to turn pucks over.

“So when you start to get pressure, you start to get heat, defensemen make their plays quicker and sometimes turn the puck over. Players like Cliffy are really important, they dictate how you’re going to be as a hockey club.”

Later, 6:36 into the second period, Clifford moved the puck up ice to Justin Williams, and watched Doughty beat Lundqvist.

For good measure in the second, Clifford dived headfirst, extending his stick to stop New York’s Carl Hagelin on a breakaway off a Slava Voynov turnover.

Later he knocked down a blast by Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, who thought he had a clean look at the net.

Before Game 1, Clifford had only three assists this postseason, and has twice been a healthy scratch.

“My game’s just simple: pound pucks, get hits, be an identity player. You want to help your team any way you can, whether it’s hits, goals, fights,” Clifford said. “We’ve all got a role to do and just have to execute it.

“I’m a role player and I understand that. We have role players throughout our lineup, just like every team does. Our ultimate goal is to help the team win.”

Twitter: @latimespugmire