LOS ANGELES — They fell behind by three games to San Jose in the opening round. They needed seven games to topple Anaheim, the top team in the Western Conference, in the second round. They trailed the Blackhawks by two goals in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
In Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, for the second straight match, the Kings fell behind by two goals to the Rangers.
But in their grimmest times, the Kings never stray from their game plan. They emphasize quick puck movement with support in the defensive zone. They preach speed through the neutral zone. In the offensive zone, their identity is relentless.
When you abide by your structure, it doesn’t matter when, where, or why you trail. You can always rally.
The Kings just did that.
“It’s more how we turn the tide over the course of the game,” said Dustin Brown. “We’re not worried about scoring the game-winning goal. We’re worried about playing our game and grinding away.”
At 10:26 of double overtime, Brown stamped the exclamation point with the deciding goal in the 5-4 win, giving the Kings a 2-0 series lead.
“I’m not really that concerned,” Brown said of trailing repeatedly. “We understand we can’t do it. But we also understand what we have in the room.’’
The Kings scored in classic Kings fashion. They forechecked the Rangers fiercely. They ragged the puck down low. They used their points. They went to the front of the net. They got rewarded.
As Willie Mitchell teed up a slap shot from the left point, Brown set up in front of Henrik Lundqvist (39 saves). The New York goalie had a bead on Mitchell’s shot. But Lundqvist was helpless when Brown tipped Mitchell’s shot into the net.
The Kings trailed 2-0 once in Game 1. On Saturday, Los Angeles stared down three two-goal deficits: 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2. Their final hole was in the third period, when the Rangers tried to put the game on lockdown.
The Kings were having none of it.
“I don’t know what it is,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin of his team’s tenacious behavior. “A lot of experience. A lot of belief and confidence in this room that we can come back. Big plays at big times. Guys are ready to do it. We’ve been doing it. Having [Jonathan Quick, who had 34 saves] in net, helping us stay in when we need it, is huge for us. It gives us momentum. We capitalized on it.”
Five players scored for LA: Brown, Marian Gaborik, Dwight King, Mitchell, and Jarret Stoll.
“There’s no handbook on how to handle overtime,” said Justin Williams, who added three assists. “You either want to make the play, or you’re just out there filling space. We’ve got a team of guys who want to be the difference.”
LA’s third rally started after a controversial play. King, who was tangling with Ryan McDonagh, was attempting to set a screen on Lundqvist. But King bumped into Lundqvist as Matt Greene snapped off a shot from the right point. King got a piece of the shot and scored at 1:58 of the third.
Both Lundqvist and McDonagh protested the goal. But referees Wes McCauley and Dan O’Halloran called it a good goal.
“Ask the NHL,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault snapped when asked if he believed King should have been called for goaltender interference.
By 7:36 of the third period, Gaborik pulled the Kings even for the final time. McDonagh and Chris Kreider had chances to clear the puck from in front of the net. But when they failed, Gaborik popped in a quick-strike shot past Lundqvist to make it a 4-4 score.
The Rangers played better in Game 2 than they did in the series opener. Their best efforts came from the first and third lines. No. 1 right wing Rick Nash landed a game-high eight shots. Third-liners Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard each scored a goal and an assist.
McDonagh triggered the offense from the back end. The No. 1 defenseman recorded a goal and an assist in a team-high 37:48 of ice time. McDonagh was good at chipping pucks out and up to his forwards. He was on the ice for the first three New York goals.
But the Rangers couldn’t put the Kings away. Now they are in a tough spot mentally.
The Kings broke their hearts in back-to-back overtime games. The Rangers have to claim four of the next five games against a resilient and relentless team.
“It’s tough,” said Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman. “You’re that close in both games. It can go either way in overtime. It’s just a matter of putting the puck in the net. It’s a little frustrating. But at the same time, it’s 2-0, we’re going to New York. It’s our rink. We’ll make the best of that.”