SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Alain Vigneault reviewed only portions of the video from the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup finals opener before he sat down at their oceanside hotel to explain how it got away.
The coach had already formed a few impressions, and they made him even more wary of the Los Angeles Kings.
“They’re one of the best teams I’ve seen in a long time,” Vigneault said Thursday. “Areas to exploit, they don’t jump out at you. We’re going to have to be better than we were.”
The Rangers realize they missed a golden chance to grab an early game from the weary Kings, who were 72 hours removed from a grueling, seven-game Western Conference finals victory over defending champion Chicago.
New York jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period at Staples Center, but was soon overwhelmed. The Kings tied it in the second, utterly dominated the third and won early in overtime on Justin Williams’ latest clutch goal.
The comeback was classic Kings — and now the Rangers realize exactly what they’re facing.
“We’re a team that’s just never going to go away,” Kings forward Jeff Carter said. “We’re going to play hard no matter what the score is.”
Game 2 is Saturday. The Kings enjoyed a rare day off at home, while the Rangers tried to relax near the beach on a splendid sunny day.
Despite Vigneault’s lofty praise, the Rangers don’t seem intimidated by the 2012 Stanley Cup champions. Although New York was outshot 20-3 in the third period, Carl Hagelin was denied by Jonathan Quick on a breakaway in the last minute of regulation, barely missing a chance to steal it.
“To be honest, I don’t think they had that many grade-A scoring chances in the third,” Hagelin said. “They had a lot of puck-possession time. They had some shots. It wasn’t really a lot of good chances. I mean, we can’t look too much into shots.”
The Kings realize they’ve also got work to do after stumbling early in their first series opener at home in the entire postseason. New York’s speed on the wings surprised the Kings, leading to numerous prime scoring chances for the Rangers.
But Los Angeles’ ability to adjust during a game has been a strength throughout its remarkable playoff run. The Kings also have proven to be an incredible comeback team after rallying from four multigoal deficits to win: They’ve rallied from at least two goals down in three of their last four games, winning twice.
“Well, you can’t chase leads all the time,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “It’s the National Hockey League. It’s the best teams in the world. There are two teams left out of 30, which means that they’ve both come a long ways, and they both had to be resilient. You don’t get any award for ‘resilient.’ So we can play a lot better, and it’s way better when you’re not chasing the lead.”
New York acknowledged Los Angeles took control of the second half of Game 1, using its disciplined structure and balanced offense to dominate puck possession. It’s a familiar formula to the Western Conference after the Kings gritted out seven-game series victories over San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago.
The Rangers have a renewed respect for the Kings after Game 1, but they also see simple fixes for their biggest problems.
“I think maybe we’re pressing, holding our sticks a little too much, too tightly,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Looking for stuff that wasn’t there. We know if we get pucks in deep and get our forecheck going, that’s where we can generate offense. We were looking for a little bit too much on the rush, looking to carry it across and gain the zone a little bit too much.”
The winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup title roughly 77 percent of the time since 1939. The Kings won Game 1 in overtime two years ago in New Jersey, ultimately finishing off the Devils in six games.
The Rangers might spend two days stewing over the lost opportunity of Game 1, but they also realize they’ve got time to counter the Kings’ strengths.
“Ultimately, I feel this group has a lot more to give,” McDonagh said. “We’re going to need that in Game 2.”