As frustrated as I am with the Drew Doughty suspension, and the NHL’s arbitrary, poorly-defined disciplinary rules, it is nice to see the NHL crack down on Nazem Kadri for his ass-to-face check on Tommy Wingels on April 12.
With Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Derek Forbort out, it was up to Alec Martinez to take over as defensive leader. For the increasingly hamstrung Kings, their playoff fate depends on Game 2.
The Los Angeles Kings started the game attacking with more aggression and gusto. Their skating was with purpose, but they could not put the puck in the net. Martinez performed admirably, and so did Oscar Fantenberg and Christian Folin. But not Kevin Gravel. After another goalie interference call—this time on Kyle Clifford who backed into Marc-Andre Fleury—pressure by William Karlsson prevented Gravel from clearing the puck with any power. The puck went to Jonathan Marchessault at the point, off the lively boards, and right into Alex Tuch in front of the net. Gravel was out of position, too far out in front, and Tuch was left untouched for a rebound slam.
Late in the period, Jonathan Marchessault was called for slashing. A feed down low was made by Anze Kopitar to Jeff Carter who had a wide-open net. But at the last moment, Deryk Engelland was there to put his stick in front to deflect the puck away.
The Vegas Golden Knights crowd was wild and raucous, cheering every hit and offensive breakout.
The Kings continued to struggle offensively. Their harmless dump-ins were easily gobbled up by the Knights. Phaneuf, out of frustration, rammed Karlsson into the goal post for an interference penalty. Even Kopitar got the puck stolen as the Kings could not break out cleanly or quickly. The fourth line of Vegas forced Kopitar’s line in the defensive zone, wasting a shift for the Kings captain.
From here it was more frustration. The Kings were desperate just to get shots on net, and placed any hit they can on anyone in gray. They tried to bait Vegas into roughhousing with them, but Vegas did not bite.
With 5:41 remaining, Brayden McNabb was called for tripping Dustin Brown. Lacking in offense, the power play became even more crucial for the Kings. But they still could not deliver, as Vegas cleared the puck with efficiency…wait! All of a sudden, Paul LaDue shot a wrister from the point to tie the game! It was thanks to Michael Amadio who succeeded with the forecheck, and Tanner Pearson who mirrored Fleury with his screening. Hope has returned to the Kings!
But Vegas did not relent, and continued fighting. With about 1:30 left, confusion between Martinez and Jonathan Quick led to the gaffe of the night, as Quick tripped over himself as he handled the puck. But Quick was able to put his stick down to prevent Vegas from taking advantage. Quick has been handling the puck more to make longer passes, to counter the Vegas speed, but with mixed results.
The Kings played a little cleaner to start, and got some shots off at Fleury. Kopitar and Brown finally got the cycle going. It was started by a nice bank pass by Fantenberg. But again, inability of Gravel to facilitate a breakout led to a steal and almost an own goal by Folin. Then another shot by Jonathan Marchessault deflected off Gravel and high. Marchessault was blocked again halfway into the period.
Los Angeles started playing with more urgency, with more hussle toward loose pucks. Despite their slow speed, the Kings neutralized Vegas’ offense with positioning. A long pass missed Trevor Lewis for an icing. Kopitar had a short side backhand which was saved. Then the Kings hit a curling Kyle Clifford for another backhander which was set aside. After a Vegas clear, Adrian Kempe kept the puck alive with some soccer dribbling but the puck squirted wide of Fleury.
Gravel and Folin fail to clear again, allowing Tuch to get the puck down low, but the Kings were bailed out by Quick. Then with three minutes to go, Erik Haula and James Neal were shut down by Quick, and Phaneuf, who blocked one for him. In the final minute, Vegas continued to flurry but Martinez was there to assist his goaltender.
Clear chances started to emerge. Brown missed a spinning backhand. Then Kopitar missed a feed to him at the hash marks. James Neal was stoned by Quick. After a breakout pass hits the skate of Pearson, Marchessault tried to feed Reilly Smith down low but the pass just missed.
Smith later kept the puck in the zone, which went to Karlsson who fed a man down low but missed.
After Tyler Toffoli drove around the defender, Fleury stopped him in the crease. Then Pierre-Edouard Bellemare cleared the puck over the glass for a penalty. The Kings won the faceoff but could only manage to pass along the perimeter.
Fantenberg was caught pinching in, and then Smith had a glorious two-on-one chance but Quick set it aside. The teams would trade precarious chance after precarious chance. Kyle Clifford missed a pass to cause an offside, but later almost squeaked a sharp angle shot by Fleury.
The Kings looked considerably more exhausted to start, and so was I. They had no choice but to use their bench and activate Gravel more. Quick has been coming out of the crease more in this game to play the puck. Hopefully he doesn’t mess it up.
A feed went to Marchessault down low but Pearson was there to defend.
After a Kings faceoff, Martinez shot it from the point—eerily familiar from 2014—but this one was saved.
Then Quick played the puck to Martinez who back passed it to a Vegas player. The shot deflected off Quick’s mask, and Quick was indignant that the referee did not blow the whistle sooner.
It was a stagnant stalemate. But all of a sudden Tomas Nosek hopped the puck over Paul LaDue, causing Phaneuf to hook him for a penalty. A shot by Nate Schmidt bounced off Kopitar’s face, and Folin had to dive to stop a Tomas Tatar shot.
Vegas got a three-on-two which was defended well, and then Kopitar shot a wrister that came off Fleury’s glove and hit the side of the net.
From then on, the Kings were on the ropes. Trevor Lewis and Quick lost their sticks in the defensive zone. Lewis was hurt blocking a shot but had to remain on the ice. But somehow, the Kings hung on, and Lewis painfully blocked another shot before Carter was able to ice the puck.
The end was nigh for the Kings. They had zero energy for offense, and barely managed to hang on for defense. A cross-ice pass went to Colin Miller, who shot it off Quick’s pad. Marchessault was inches away from the rebound to jam in the winner, but could not.
And at 15:22, the Kings were officially defeated. James Neal carried the puck into the offensive zone, and dished it to Erik Haula, who slipped the puck by Quick after a few stick moves. And guess who was on the ice and again out of position. That’s right. Kevin Gravel.
The last impression of the game was of Alec Martinez almost crying in front of the Kings bench. Martinez led Kings skaters with a whopping 44:43 of ice time. Fantenberg played 41:03. And Kopitar played 38:54.
The Kings were outshot 13-7 in the first overtime, and 9-3 in the second overtime. They were outshot 56-30 overall.
This was the longest game in Kings history, lasting longer than the Stanley Cup-winning game of June 2014. The Knights won 2-1 and lead the series 2-0. Perhaps the Kings had no business winning this game, with Doughty suspended. But the Kings kept within reach. They valiantly did the very best they could, with the skill and personnel they had.
I made fun of Gravel all night with this article, but it wasn’t all his fault. Once again, Vegas gave the Kings little time or room to operate, quickly reaching every loose puck. Los Angeles had few clean breakouts, and established very little cycling.
Sometimes in life, we try our very best, and go above and beyond, and it still isn’t enough. When that happens, we have no choice but to say “Good job,” and accept that the door is locked for now. But as fans, we continue to have faith that the door will reopen in the future.
Alec Martinez appeared to almost cry at the end. He had every right to do so, as he finished a marathon out there. Anyone who has finished 26.2 miles knows how stressful it is to the body and mind. You cannot help but be emotional afterward, no matter who you are. Martinez poured his heart, his soul, and his guts onto the ice. He played beyond himself, and took the mantle as leader of the Kings defense. In doing so, he proved that he too is elite, and can match up against the elite lines of other teams. And he once again showed us Kings fans why we continue to love him as a player. Stick tap to you, Alec Martinez.