Los Angeles, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Justin Williams netted the game winner with 4:36 elapsed in overtime, as the Los Angeles Kings claimed a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals from Staples Center on Wednesday.
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi attempted the stickhandle his way out of his zone on the right wing, but failed to control the puck. Mike Richards turned around and dished ahead, where Williams was left alone in the slot. He beat Henrik Lundqvist to the blocker side and under the crossbar for his first career playoff OT marker which ended the contest.
"Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. "He doesn't get enough credit for what he does. There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that's him and 'Kopy' (Anze Kopitar). When they have the puck, plays happen."
Williams, a Cup winner with both Carolina and L.A., owns a league mark with 14 points (7G, 7A) in Game 7s, and added another chapter to his playoff legend.
For two clubs which combined for an NHL record 41 playoff games through the first three rounds, it was fitting the 42nd was decided beyond regulation.
Lundqvist was the hard luck loser, stopping 40-of-43 shots including all 20 he faced in the third period. Counterpart Jonathan Quick made 25 saves.
"It's a fast game and it happens. It's disappointing when you lose, especially when you're that close," Lundqvist said. "We had a really strong start to the game and then I think they started their push late in the first. Obviously in the third they had a lot of the puck but I felt like we kept them to the outside for the most part."
Kyle Clifford and Doughty picked up goals for the Kings, who opened up the fourth and final playoff round with their first home overtime playoff triumph in more than 13 years.
Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin lit the lamp in the first period for the Rangers, who had won each of their previous three series openers this postseason.
Game 2 is set for Saturday night in Los Angeles.
The Rangers showed in the opening shifts how rested they were, zipping through the offensive zone with little resistance. However, the hosts had the best early chance just over five minutes in, as Jake Muzzin pushed a bouncing shot from the high slot just wide of the left post.
Quick had to move inside his crease to stop consecutive chances from the right side by Brad Richards and in front from Martin St. Louis near the midway point of the first, but the saves came at a cost.
New York, which operated at just 1-for-16 efficiency coming into the final round, gained the first power-play chance when L.A. defenseman Alec Martinez was called for hooking at the 9:12 mark during the previous sequence. The best chance on that advantage came late, when Mats Zuccarello tried a stuffer at the right post, but Quick turned it away.
Pouliot eventually put the visitors ahead with 6:39 remaining. He was aggressive on the forecheck as the puck floated back to Doughty near the point. Pouliot then pushed it ahead into the neutral zone, raced up the right wing alone and beat Quick with a hard wrister.
Quick stopped a prime chance from New York's Brian Boyle seconds into the initial Kings' power play as Zuccarello committed a holding infraction, then Hagelin barreled in for a shot which Quick turned aside. The rebound caromed off the skate of Slava Voynov and back over the goal line for a 2-0 Rangers' edge at 15:03.
Clifford finally jolted the partisan crowd awake when he charged the net at the left post and redirected a Jeff Carter centering feed home with 2:27 left before intermission.
"We had a couple good shifts before that, so I thought we were just building off that. Like I said, go to the net and good things happen," Clifford stated. "We just want to come out with a better start, and we didn't like the start we had."
The Kings had to endure an interference call to Muzzin less than four minutes into the second but successfully limited Ranger passing and shooting options.
On the following shift after the kill, Doughty atoned for his earlier mistake, drawing his club even at the 6:36 mark on a shot from the left circle which hit the net after going through the crook of Lundqvist's left arm.
Los Angeles failed to take the lead on a subsequent manpower advantage when Rangers forward Derick Brassard was sent off for boarding nine seconds after the score, and Trevor Lewis missed two point-blank chances to put his team ahead including one on a breakaway.
Quick made two stops on a late New York advantage created when Richards was booked for slashing with 1:19 left in the period to preserve the deadlock.
The hosts came up empty on another power play less than three minutes into the third, but Lundqvist did the splits to deny a Willie Mitchell blast from the left point 6 1/2 minutes in.
Nonetheless, the Kings controlled play despite a slower pace, racking up 13 shots in almost 12 minutes of action before the Rangers unleashed one -- a shot from St. Louis which got a piece of Quick's shoulder.
"That's a good hockey team on the other side. They're going to force you to make mistakes," St. Louis said. "There are two teams that are going for the same thing. We'll correct the mistakes and get right back at it."
Mitchell made a sliding stop on Rick Nash to break up a 3-on-1 rush with just under three minutes left in regulation, and things got interesting after Boyle was whistled for slashing with 1:36 to play.
Hagelin was allowed yet another break-in with 40 seconds remaining, but Quick came up with an emphatic save. Carter narrowly missed a stuffer try at the left post on the counter-rush by inches.
"It was not a good hockey game for us," Mitchell admitted. "We kind of got away with one. Quickie was outstanding to let us find a little bit of legs."
Williams set new single-season playoff career highs with eight goals, 12 assists and 20 points ... He has also posted one goal and three assists in 30 career postseason games which have advanced beyond regulation ... Los Angeles improved to 3-2 in overtime during these playoffs, while New York fell to 2-2 ... Glen Murray recorded the lone score in the Kings' 1-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 6, 2001 ... Clifford snapped a 37-game postseason scoring drought with his first- period tally ... Thanks to his marker, Doughty broke his own club record, set during the 2012 Cup run, for points by a defenseman in one postseason, which now stands at 17 ... According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Rangers tallied a short-handed goal on the road in the Stanley Cup Finals was May 13, 1979 at Montreal in a 4-1 Game 1 victory when Dave Maloney beat Ken Dryden ... David LeNeveu served as the backup to Lundqvist, since Cam Talbot was termed day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.