Kopitar has hat trick, Pearson scores in overtime in Kings’ 5-4 win over Rangers
The goalie who returned from the abyss. The usually reliable star player who struggled in his last game and responded with a hat trick. Or the youngster who had been a healthy scratch the last two games getting the winner in overtime.
Yes, the Kings had three compelling story lines working together Friday night, resulting in a 5-4 overtime victory over the New York Rangers on Tanner Pearson’s goal at 3:10.
Kings goaltender Peter Budaj, who couldn’t win at the American Hockey League level last season, won his first regular-season game in the NHL since April 4, 2014, against Ottawa when he was with Montreal.
“Madison Square Garden. Friday night. L.A. Kings vs. Rangers. I don’t think it gets any better than that,” said Budaj, smiling.
Kings center Anze Kopitar, a minus-one on Thursday in a loss to the New York Islanders, had his first hat trick since March 11, 2011, at Columbus. His third goal came with Budaj pulled for an extra attacker, tying the game, 4-4, with 30 seconds remaining. It was a double deflection, finally going off Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein past goalie Antti Raanta.
That set the stage for overtime. Pearson, who hadn’t scored since Dec. 31 at Calgary, was back in the lineup and had one thought in mind with the outnumbered attack. “I was going to shoot the whole way,” he said.
The victory came about 24 hours after the Kings turned in a clunker in a loss against the Islanders. Kopitar doesn’t have many off games but this was one.
Kopitar and his linemates — left wing Milan Lucic and captain Dustin Brown — were strong against the Rangers. Lucic had two assists and Brown added one.
“It was Kopitar’s best game of the season, that’s for sure,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “Not just because he scored three goals. But it was his best game all around.”
Said Kopitar: “Getting a goal the first shift of the game definitely helps. I thought we were strong on the puck overall. Last night, we just turned the pucks over at wrong spots on the ice and it ended up costing us.”
Kopitar’s line did the heavy lifting, which was needed, especially after the Kings lost forward Marian Gaborik in the first period.
Gaborik, who scored a power-play goal in the first period to make it 2-0, appeared to suffer a knee injury and went to the bench in discomfort. Soon after, he went back to the dressing room, unable to put any weight on the leg, and did not return.
There was no update about his status but it appears as though the Kings probably will recall forward Michael Mersch from their American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario (Calif.).
The Rangers scored three straight goals after the Kings took a 2-0 lead. Kopitar’s second goal of the game tied it, 3-3, at 15:46 of the second period. Kevin Hayes put the Rangers ahead with his power-play goal at 15:14 of the third before Kopitar responded one more time.
“The last four minutes felt like forever,” Raanta said. “The clock didn’t move at all… It just hit the guy [Klein] in the chest and bounces in the net.”
Sutter thought that Budaj got better as the game went along. He had to come up big in overtime, in particular, on a bid by Derick Brassard.
“If we replayed the play, I’d probably get out there and play it,” Budaj said. “I actually thought it was [Chris] Kreider for some reason. I didn’t know it was Brassard and he’s pretty fast.”
You can understand considering Budaj has been away from the NHL scene for close to two years. He has been outstanding in Ontario and joined the Kings here on emergency recall because of an injury to All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick.
“I’m very thankful I was able to get this chance,” Budaj said. "…When you let in four goals, it doesn’t look that great. Credit to the guys, they never quit in front of me.”
He was asked how he was able to stay positive after going 0-9-6 last season with St. John’s of the American Hockey League.
“Last year, I think I was focused on coming back to the NHL as soon as I can and that took away my focus from the game and stopping the puck and from my job,” he said.
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