LOS ANGELES — Mr. Game 7 delivered in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
Justin Williams scored 4:36 into overtime as the Los Angeles Kings rallied to edge the New York Rangers 3-2 in the opening game of the NHL championship series Wednesday night.
The winning goal came on a cruel bounce, a sudden end to an evening that had started with so much promise for the underdog Rangers.
Dan Girardi fanned on a clearing attempt and the puck ended up at the blue-line with Mike Richards, who found Williams alone in front. Williams, who is 7-0 on the Game 7 stage with seven goals and 14 points, scored high to the stick side to complete a Kings comeback from 2-0 down.
It was his first career playoff overtime goal.
“I’ve said this many times, Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” said Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, who had a roller-coaster night. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does.
“There’s two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to and that’s him and Kopie (Anze Kopitar). When they have the puck, plays happen.”
Added coach Darryl Sutter: “Our best right-winger every night consistently.”
Williams’ eighth goal of the playoffs marked the third straight year that Game 1 of the final has gone to OT.
Game 2 goes Saturday at the Staples Center with advantage Los Angeles.
Teams winning Game 1 have gone on to claim the Cup 77 per cent of the time (57-of-74 series) since the final went to a best-of-seven format in 1939.
Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin scored for the Rangers before a crowd of 18,399, the Kings’ 118th straight sellout.
Kyle Clifford and Doughty also scored for Los Angeles, which trailed 2-0 after 15 minutes.
“It’s a great result for us definitely but we have a lot of things to clean up,” said Williams, who has nine points (four goals, five assists) in the last seven games. “Certainly not our best game by any standards especially ours. But we were able to get it done and that’s the most important thing.”
“We’ve got a lot to clean up but (we are) happy with the win,” said Doughty.
After going down early, the Kings tied it up at 2-2 in the second period and then came on like a freight train —outshooting New York 20-3 in the final period.
The Rangers held on and then threatened late in a wild ending to regulation time.
“I liked the way we played in the first two periods,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “I thought it was a hard-fought first 40 minutes by both teams.
“Not quite sure what happened there in the third.”
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick both lived up to their reputations on the night, with Quick busy early and Lundqvist late in an entertaining end-to-end game.
“He was the reason why we went to overtime,” Vigneault said of Lundqvist. “I mean, 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.”
“Our best player tonight,” Sutter said of Quick.
The Rangers managed 25 shots in regulation time. The shots were 2-2 in OT.
“Quick didn’t have many saves in the third period, but he had some Grade-A ones,” said Williams.
The Kings registered 13 straight shots in the third before the Rangers finally forced Quick into action 11 minutes 58 seconds into the period.
The Kings weren’t good early on. New York, which had been off since disposing of Montreal last Thursday, came out buzzing.
The speedy Rangers played with a purpose after the puck dropped. It was like little brother taking it to big brother — they scored some knockdowns but eventually the bigger Kings began to claw back control.
The Kings, who edged the Blackhawks in overtime Sunday in Chicago to win the Western Conference crown, finished with 45 hits to the Rangers’ 33.
“They come at you hard,” said Vigneault. “When you make a play, you got to be willing to take the hit to make the play. That’s something we knew coming into the series.
“I thought for 40 minutes we handled it real well. Not quite sure what happened in the third there.”