LOS ANGELES — At first, Dan Girardi wasn’t in trouble. In overtime, the Rangers’ shutdown defenseman had gained control of the puck in the defensive zone.
Girardi was ready to start the breakout. That’s when things broke down.
Girardi fanned on his first clearing attempt. Then when Tanner Pearson closed on the forecheck, Girardi dropped to one knee and tried to clear it a second time. Because of Pearson’s rapid application of pressure, Girardi’s pass up the right wall went directly to Mike Richards’s stick.
Once Richards got the puck, he got rid of it to Justin Williams in front. Williams made Girardi and the Rangers pay.
At 4:36 of overtime Wednesday night, Williams snapped the puck past a previously impenetrable Henrik Lundqvist to give the Kings a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was William’s eighth goal of this postseason.
“I tried to make a play up the middle and it bounces,” Girardi said. “I kind of got to one knee. I’m just thinking, ‘Get it up the wall.’ But [Richards] was there. He made a smart play to the middle. We can’t give Williams a shot like that. He’s pretty clutch in the playoffs.”
It was Williams’s second game-winning goal in these playoffs. He also scored in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against Chicago.
“Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” said Drew Doughty. “He doesn’t get enough credit. There’s two guys I want to get the puck to: him and [Anze Kopitar]. When they have the puck, things happen.”
There was only one reason why the Kings required overtime to win: Lundqvist.
In the third period, the Kings settled into their pace. Whenever the Rangers tried to dump it in, the Kings sprinted to be first on the puck. Once they got it, they dashed the other way before the Rangers could slow them down. The Kings supported the retriever. They chipped it forward. Then they went to work.
“I’m not quite sure what happened there in the third,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “Not sure if it was them being that good or us stopping to move the puck, skate, and go north-south. They definitely took it to us in the third.”
In the third, the Kings recorded a 20-puck barrage on the New York net. Many of them were howlers.
Lundqvist, however, turned them all back.
“He was the reason why we went to overtime,” said Vigneault. “He gave us a chance. When you get to overtime, lot of times it’s a bounce or it’s a shot. Tonight, they got it.”
The Rangers grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period. Jonathan Quick could do little to stop either goal.
Ex-Bruin Benoit Pouliot started the scoring at 13:21. Doughty tried to keep the puck inside the offensive blue line. But as he tried to pull the puck to himself, Pouliot stripped it away. Once Doughty turned the puck over, Pouliot peeled off for a breakaway. Quick tried to challenge Pouliot’s shot, but the No. 3 left wing snapped the puck blocker side on Quick to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
The Kings had a chance to tie the game when Mats Zuccarello was called for tripping at 14:34. Instead, the Rangers doubled their lead.
Doughty dumped the puck into the offensive zone. Ryan McDonagh turned and retrieved the puck quickly. McDonagh bumped the puck up the wall to Brian Boyle. The Hingham, Mass., native fought off Kopitar and spotted Carl Hagelin pulling away toward the LA goal. With a quick flick, Boyle got the puck up to Hagelin, who left Slava Voynov in the dust.
Quick stopped Hagelin’s backhander with his stick. But the puck glanced off the backchecking Voynov’s right skate and skittered over the line at 15:03.
The Kings, however, don’t mind being down two goals. The Kings, who rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit in Game 7 against Chicago, turned the trick again on Wednesday.
They started their comeback with a Kyle Clifford goal at 17:33 of the first. The play started after a defensive-zone turnover by Derek Stepan. The New York center had the puck along the right wall. But instead of going up the glass and out, Stepan tried to pass into the middle.
Clifford sealed off Stepan’s pass and caused a turnover. The Kings immediately went on the attack. Jeff Carter muscled off Anton Stralman along the end boards.
At the same time, Clifford gained net-front position on Marc Staal. With Lundqvist leaning to his left, Clifford took Carter’s pass and batted the puck into the net to make it 2-1.
The Kings pulled even after an electric play by their best player. On his goal, Doughty joined the rush, pulled the puck between his legs, and snapped the puck through Lundqvist to make it 2-2 at 6:36 of the second.
“When I get angry, I kind of turn it on,” Doughty said. “I try to throw my emotions the right way. Sometimes I don’t. It was a bad turnover. I wasn’t happy with myself.”
Like all players, Doughty had made a mistake on Pouliot’s goal. But unlike most players, Doughty shrugged it off. He didn’t let it drag down his game. Doughty finished the night with one goal and a team-high 26:59 of ice time. It was a star player’s output.