LOS ANGELES -- With the New York Rangers failing to generate much of anything in the third period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was under siege from a Los Angeles Kings squad hungry to complete another dramatic comeback.
More than midway through the final frame, the Rangers were being outshot 14-0 by the Kings. While Lundqvist was being pelted with pucks -- he made 40 saves in the game -- his Blueshirts teammates needed almost 12 solid minutes to register their first shot on goal of the period.
The Kings were flinging shots from the perimeter, firing pucks at bad angles, trying to catch Lundqvist out of position or force a juicy rebound. But still, the star netminder yielded nothing.
In a stunning sequence of end-to-end action in the final minute of the game, he made a dazzling diving save to stop Jeff Carter on a Grade-A wraparound attempt.
He looked dialed in right then, capable of stealing this road game for the Rangers and affirming his place as the X factor for his underdog squad.
But Lundqvist could not lead the Rangers off into the L.A. sunset with a stealthy road win. Instead, in his first finals appearance, he gave up the game winner in overtime. Justin Williams might not look as good as Lundqvist in a finely tailored suit, but he was on the victors' podium following the Kings' 3-2 overtime victory, while Lundqvist was swarmed at his stall after the game and forced to recount the deciding play with his sweat-soaked gear hanging behind him in the cramped visitors locker room.
"It happens," Lundqvist said. "It's disappointing that we lose, especially when we're that close. Another really strong start to the game, I think. They started to push in the first, and obviously, in the third we gave them a lot of puck, but it felt like we kept them to the outside, for the most part. It was a pretty fun game to play. A lot of action both ends. It could have gone either way here. Unfortunately, they got the first one."
It was a game ripe for the stealing for a Rangers team doubted by many to even have a chance in this series against the big, heavy Kings. The Rangers built a 2-0 lead and dominated play for the first period. But a monster night from Kyle Clifford began when he cut that lead in half late in the first, and the Kings regained some swagger from there.
Drew Doughty, angry with himself for a costly turnover that resulted in the Rangers' first goal of the night, got redemption with a nifty move and a deke that allowed him to put one past Lundqvist and tie the score at 6:36 of the second period.
"I wasn't happy with myself," Doughty said postgame. "I had to be a better player than I was on that play. [Williams] made a great pass to me on my goal. Lot of room in front of me. Luckily, we squeezed one by Lundqvist."
From there, the ice tilted as the Rangers conceded the territorial edge to the Kings, particularly in the final frame.
"We certainly know we could play better," defenseman Marc Staal said. "We had a great start. That first period, period and a half, we were really good. We did let them get back in the game, and then that third period was kind of like a snowball effect."
Heralded as the one reason the Rangers might have a chance of preventing a lopsided series, Lundqvist made 20 saves in the third. He held his team in it and preserved a 2-2 draw until the end of regulation, even with the Kings awarded a power play in the final 1:36 of play.
"I mean, he was the reason we went to overtime," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He gave us a chance. When you get to overtime, a lot of times, it's a bounce, it's a shot. Tonight they got it."
That bounce, or break, came less than five minutes into the overtime period, when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi fell to one knee in his own zone and sent the puck right to L.A.'s Mike Richards, who dished off to Williams for the winner.
It was difficult for Lundqvist to avoid second-guessing.
"I tried to come out and play it the way I should," he said. "I tried to be patient on the second one. He had so much time. I felt like I was patient, and I still made the first move -- same with the third one. I probably could've played that one a little better, but it’s always easy to look back here and have the right answer."
Lundqvist continued, pausing for a long sigh.
"It's ... disappointing, but at the same time, it's just one game," he said. "So we will come back here with a strong performance in the next one."