The Kings invoked memories of their 2014 cup run last night. In a rematch between Stanley Cup finalists, they also faced Henrik Lundqvist for the first time in Staples Center since that fateful June night. Also like 2014, the Kings never led in regulation and stormed back from a two goal deficit in the third period. Not bad, right?
The Los Angeles Kings came out the gate pretty garbage last night. I mean, they didn't even score in the first minute! Truthfully, the Kings dictated tempo right from the start of the game, and the Rangers' game last night may have been a bit of an aid in doing so. Things were looking particularly good for the Kings when Anze Kopitar put the puck in front of the net for Tanner Pearson's golden chance. At the time, Alec Martinez also jumped in to join the play. The rebound didn't go the Kings' way and led to a 3 on 1 the other way. J.T. Miller elected not to pass and simply beat Jonathan Quick with a snap shot. I'm sure the Kings felt like it was going to be one of those nights.
It was only nineteen seconds later when Dustin Brown fought off Dan Boyle's attempt to be worn as an accessory on Dustin's person and scored on a screened Lundqvist. The screen was thanks to Jeff Carter, but the goal was a specimen of individual effort on the captain's part. It also established a three game goal streak for Dustin! He hasn't done that since 2013, so things are certainly looking up for Dustin.
Unfortunately, Brown and Boyle would meet again in the middle of the second period when Dustin failed to get his stick on a puck in the high slot for a clear. The attempt left Brown a little flat-footed, which gave Boyle the space he needed to fire an uncontested shot on Quick. The Rangers once again claimed a one goal lead, and this one would stick. This didn't really change the Kings' play or game plan, and the Kings fought to get that second goal back the rest of the period.
Things turned to worse in the third period when a series of botched coverages and numerous rebounds in tight gave the Rangers a two goal lead early on. The Kings challenged the play for goaltender interference, but the replay showed there was no chance. This flipped a switch for the Kings as they spent the rest of the third fighting their way back. McNabb, who had been on for two goals, only saw two more shifts in the third. Rob Scuderi also only saw two more shifts, which essentially left the Kings with four defensemen for 18 minutes of hockey.
A combination of line juggling meant we had Jeff Carter on the ice with Kyle Clifford and Dustin Brown two minutes later. Keith Yandle followed Jeff Carter below the goal line in what he thought was likely to be a turn along the boards. Instead, Carter unleashed a diagonal pass in front of the net that no one could screw up, and Kyle Clifford scored to put the Kings within one again.
Clifford on the spot pic.twitter.com/MNZ7OE8Ziq— LA Kings (@LAKings) March 18, 2016
After that goal, the Rangers essentially shut down and just tried to hold on. Outside of a sliding stop from Alec Martinez to break up a play in front of Quick, the rest of the period was spent in New York's zone. That was, at least, until four minutes left when four players clustered in front of Lundqvist as they fought to tip a Milan Lucic shot. One of those players happened to be Anze Kopitar, and his tip beat Lundqvist and tied the game.
Henrik would complain about being interfered with and the Rangers used their challenge on the play. Replays showed that Ryan McDonagh actually forced Tyler Toffoli into Lundqvist and Kopitar never interfered with Lundqvist. The teams then cooled off a bit as neither wanted to willingly relinquish the standings point in sight.
The teams went on to overtime, and the Rangers' fatigue looked to finally be a factor. A rare icing in overtime left the Kings with a zone draw in the Rangers' end. Kopitar won the faceoff and the puck went back to Jeff Carter. Carter passed the puck to Jake Muzzin, who wasted no time unloading a slap shot on net. Anze Kopitar was once again in front of the Swedish netminder and once again flashed his tip for the win.
This type of comeback was commonplace in the playoffs in 2014, and it especially brought back good memories against the Rangers. The Rangers' record when leading in the third was particularly good, and that simply didn't matter for the Kings. It also reminded us that Anze Kopitar is good. I mean, just look at this soccer passing play.
Oh my goodness, Kopitar kicks it out pic.twitter.com/2gmL2cyPgs— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 18, 2016
It's fair to say that the Kings are on an absolute tear. After their regulation loss to Anaheim, they've collected 11 of the possible 12 points in those six games since. The only team in the NHL with a better record over the last 10 games is the Philadelphia Flyers. They have a six point lead over the Ducks (who do have a game in hand), and they could pass the Stars for first in the West when they draw even in games played. With 12 games left, the thought of a division title seems real as the Ducks cool off. Home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs would certainly be a weird feeling, but I think it's one we're willing to give a shot.