Where does an overtime goal come from? Sometimes, it’s a brilliant transition play; one player sees something no one else does, and sets up his teammate for a dazzling winner. Sometimes, it’s a messy rebound, or a perfect shot after relentless defense, or a weird bounce.
Sometimes, it’s more complicated than any of that.
Justin Williams scored the game-winning goal 4:36 into overtime on Wednesday night, giving the Los Angeles Kings a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers. Here’s how it happened. The Rangers are in the offensive zone, and are applying pressure.
Jake Muzzin makes a hit on Derrick Brassard to free up the puck. Mike Richards taps the puck forward to Tanner Pearson, who's in an ideal position to take the puck the other way. We’ve got Pearson, Richards, and Justin Williams cruising up-ice against Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
It’s developing into a standard 3-on-2, forwards vs. defense, and while not overly threatening, it’s setting up as a potential scoring chance. Until Pearson, the puck carrier, slows down and whiffs on his pass. A chuckling Williams later described how his team had "royally screwed up" the play, and this has allowed Benoit Pouliot to catch up with the Kings forwards. With all forward momentum gone, the puck was thrown into the offensive zone.
Rather than going for an immediate line change, though, the Kings’ forwards continued past the blue line, and Tanner Pearson tried to minimize the effect of his turnover by forechecking. All he was trying to do was make Girardi think a little bit about how to get the puck out of the zone. In this case, it made all the difference, because Girardi hesitated… and whiffed on his pass.
His whiff came at a crucial time. McDonagh had turned around and was already moving up the ice, ready to take that outlet pass from Girardi. Mats Zuccarello is in the middle, also expecting that pass. Mike Richards has good coverage on Pouliot, but if Girardi throws it that way at that exact moment, Pouliot can likely at least get the puck to the neutral zone. Girardi was kind of screwed at this point, because that extra split-second has allowed Pearson to close in and block off the middle. Girardi falls down and tries to salvage the play by going along the boards.
It was the wrong choice. Richards had waved to the bench to get ready for a line change, but he had held the point, and Pouliot's momentum had already taken him past Richards. As for Williams... he just sees things, doesn't he? It’s how he set up Kopitar’s goal two years ago in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s how he so often seems to be in the right place at the right time. In this case, Williams was in the opening created by Girardi and McDonagh going opposite ways, and it was a huge opening, to say the least. Richards was only too happy to poke the puck back in, and Williams was more open than he could have dreamed.
A number of crucial moments in this game came down to scorer vs. goaltender. Pouliot’s goal, also set up by a defensive stumble, came on a breakaway in the first period. Carl Hagelin found himself breaking in on Quick three times! Though Trevor Lewis and Tyler Toffoli each were able to get a half-step on the Rangers’ defense, this was the most open a Kings forward had been all night. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best in the business, but he certainly wasn’t ready for this. Williams executed the shot, and the Kings had a Game 1 win.
KINGS GOAL: Justin Williams (8), Snap shot - ASST: Mike Richards (7) - 4:36, OT