LOS ANGELES – If the Los Angeles Kings ever looked down from the tightrope they’re walking in the NHL playoffs, they would surely fall.
Three straight games with multigoal deficits, including a 4-2 hole late in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. Three straight overtime contests, the result hanging on every shift.
Willie Mitchell realizes the comeback Kings are on a perilous path, but they haven’t fallen off yet. He also knows they’re two wins away from raising the Cup again.
Captain Dustin Brown redirected Mitchell’s shot 10:26 into the second overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings outlasted the New York Rangers 5-4 to take a 2-0 series lead.
Marian Gaborik tied it with 12:24 left in regulation for the Kings, who rallied from another two-goal deficit in their latest exhibition of clutch hockey made simple — or at least that’s how it looks to Staples Center fans who can’t believe the Kings’ preternatural poise.
“It’s not the place we want to be, to have to climb out all the time,” Mitchell said. “Sooner or later, it is going to bite you. I guess that’s the great part about it is we find a way to battle back. We’ve got some work to do again.”
Game 3 is Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
While the Rangers lamented a missed opportunity and cried foul on Los Angeles’ third goal, the Kings prepared for a cross-country trip after another demonstration of the resilience that got them through three straight Game 7 victories this spring.
Dwight King kicked off the Kings’ comeback with a debated goal early in the third. Jarret Stoll also scored for Los Angeles, which rallied from a two-goal deficit for the fourth time in its past five games.
“We’re getting used to it, I guess,” Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “I don’t know. You just battle. You’re in the zone. You’re playing and having fun. That’s what it is about, winning games in the playoffs and battling in overtime. We’ve been lucky to come out on top in three of them here.”
The Kings traded scoring chances with New York in two nail-biting overtime periods before Mitchell teed up a long shot. Brown deflected it under Henrik Lundqvist’s glove arm, ending the longest finals game in Rangers history and nearly the longest playoff game in Kings history.
“You want to create what we call noise there,” Mitchell said. “Hank plays so deep in his net, and if you can get some traffic and throw some pucks at the net when a guy plays deep like that, sometimes you’re lucky enough to get one past a world-class goalie.”
The Kings are making their own remarkable brand of noise, all right. They haven’t led during any of their past three games, going to overtime each night, but they still finished off Chicago in the Western Conference finals and took a big series lead on the Rangers, who twice fell agonizingly short.
“When you play five periods, the difference is not very big between winning and losing,” Lundqvist said.
Lundqvist made 39 saves for New York, and Jonathan Quick had 34 for Los Angeles. Both goalies made a handful of stellar overtime stops.
After blowing a 2-0 lead in the opener, New York had three different two-goal leads in Game 2. The Kings still came roaring back.
Lundqvist and the Rangers couldn’t believe an interference penalty wasn’t called after Matt Greene’s slap shot hit King and went in while the bruising forward fell on top of Lundqvist.
“I’m extremely disappointed on that call — or non-call,” Lundqvist said. “I mean, they’ve got to be consistent with that rule. . . . They score a goal, and I can’t even move. It’s extremely frustrating for them to get life like that. After that, it’s a different game.”
Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard had a goal and an assist apiece for the Rangers, who had three two-goal leads in Game 2. Ryan McDonagh and Martin St. Louis also scored, but New York couldn’t finish another strong effort.
The Rangers are heading home in a big hole in their quest for their first Stanley Cup title in 20 years. But despite their propensity for blowing leads, they’ve played their smart, counterattacking style to great effect, proving this series won’t be a walkover for the favored Kings.
“I think we’ve played close to nine periods now, (and) for the most part I’ve liked a lot of things about our game,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Our guys are trying real hard. We’re going to continue to try. Both games, we had opportunities. We didn’t get it done.”
Several minutes after King’s disputed goal, McDonagh then gave the puck to Gaborik in front, and the Kings’ late-season acquisition beat Lundqvist for his 13th goal of a phenomenal postseason.
Neither team played cautiously in overtime, trading good scoring chances and three fruitless power plays in the first extra period. King nearly ended it with a short-handed one-timer, and Chris Kreider failed to score on a breakaway.