Commentary: For Kings, it's never say dire
LOS ANGELES — Of course, the Kings fell behind early in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final and went into the first intermission trailing the New York Rangers by two goals. Based on the Kings’ playoff habits this spring, they had the Rangers exactly where they wanted the visitors to be — uncomfortably ahead.
Trailing by two was nothing new for the Kings. Nor was their rally to produce a favorable outcome.
Dustin Brown deflected Willie Mitchell’s long blast past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist 10:26 into the second overtime period, completing the Kings’ third straight two-goal playoff comeback in a 5-4 victory Saturday that gave them a sweep of the first two games at Staples Center.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Kings are the first team in Stanley Cup playoff history to overcome a two-goal deficit to win three straight games. Besides trailing, 2-0, after the first period Saturday, the Kings trailed, 4-2, after two periods. They never panicked, never blinked. The locker room was calm during the second intermission, center Anze Kopitar said, and the sentiments they voiced were basic and familiar.
“Keep playing. Keep going, trying to get the next goal,” he said.
Which they did. And the one after that, and the one after that.
“Once we get the ball rolling with one goal everybody on our team kind of feeds off it,” said Dwight King, a former Manchester Monarch.
They’ve rolled to within two victories of winning their second championship in three seasons, a remarkable feat in an era when the salary cap works to disperse talent and destroy dynasties.
The sellout crowd roared as another ex-Manchester Monarch Brown, stationed in the slot, redirected Mitchell’s shot past a helpless Lundqvist on the Kings’ 44th shot of the game, a joyful noise that ended a dramatic contest.
Maybe the Kings have become blase after staging so many comebacks, because Mitchell looked decidedly doubtful when a TV reporter suggested the game was memorable enough to be one for the ages.
“I don’t know about that,” Mitchell said. “I just feel like it was Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final and we scratched and clawed and found a way to win, and we’re going to have to continue to do that against a good team here.”
Finding ways to win, even when it seems like they might have run out of tricks and options and energy, has become business as usual for the Kings while making resilience their trademark during this Cup chase.
If their 2012 championship run was a cruise — they took a 3-0 lead in all four series and needed only 20 playoff games for their first Cup title in franchise history — this journey has been more like a thrill ride. They’ve dipped and soared and have done everything the hard way, including winning three Game 7s on the road to advance to their second Cup Final in three seasons.
They never led in Game 7 of the Western Conference final at Chicago, until pulling it out on an overtime goal by defenseman Alec Martinez. They never led in Game 1 against the Rangers here on Wednesday, until emerging triumphant thanks to Justin Williams’ overtime goal.
They never led until the final goal Saturday, either, yet still took a 2-0 series lead before the Stanley Cup caravan moves to New York’s Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4, to be played tonight and Wednesday.
When members of the Kings were kids and dreamed of playing in the Stanley Cup Final, facing two-goal deficits wasn’t part of the scenario.
“We’re getting used to it, though,” King said. “Obviously the starts haven’t been great but once we finally do find a hole, that’s when everybody kind of builds off it and that’s exciting to see and be a part of.”
According to the NHL, 48 teams have taken a 2-0 series lead since the Stanley Cup Final went to a best-of-seven format in 1939, and 43 of them have gone on to win the Cup.
The last team to do that was the 2012 Kings.
That team didn’t have to rally like this one has. The rallies reaffirm their character but that’s not the whole story.
“I think the way we play, everyone is talking about how we come back,” Brown said. “I think it’s more how we turn the tide of the game over the course of the game.”
The tide is carrying them toward the Cup, even if they have to swim upstream once in a while to get there.