Kings know they got away with one

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LOS ANGELES — You didn’t have to tell the Los Angeles Kings they started the Stanley Cup Final badly. They knew it. And they don’t plan to do it again.

“Obviously not the way we drew it up,” said forward Mike Richards, talking about the 2-0 deficit his team fell into early versus the New York Rangers, despite ultimately fighting back to earn a 3-2 overtime victory.

“Didn’t have our ‘A’ game today, but we battled. We got a couple of bounces and ended up getting the win. We know we have to be better. … We probably got a little lucky tonight.”

Falling behind and battling back has become a theme for the Kings in these playoffs, and all sorts of theories were floating around trying to explain their sloppy start to Game 1 of the Cup final, which came on home ice in front of a supportive Staples Center crowd.

Were they still thinking about the Chicago Blackhawks? Did they underestimate the underdog Rangers? Maybe they just enjoy playing with fire?

“The game of hockey, you’re not going to have your legs every single night,” shrugged Richards. “Just chalk it up to one of those days I guess.”

But coach Darryl Sutter had another theory.

“I think [the Rangers] had a lot of energy and were fresh,” he said. “If you look at their playoffs in the first periods, they’ve had really good first periods every game. You look at it, not I think, I know, that we were not on full tanks.”

And Sutter was none too pleased with all the chances his team gave up, including the breakaway that his best defenseman, Drew Doughty, served up in the first period to New York’s Benoit Pouliot, who promptly opened the scoring.

“You don’t want to trade chances with the New York Rangers,” said Sutter. “I said it yesterday and I’ve said it every day. If you have to score more than three goals, you’re going to have trouble. If you trade chances, in the end you’re going to have trouble.”

Meanwhile, Sutter’s counterpart, Alain Vigneault, was left perplexed at how his team could start so well, then fade away and get outshot 20-3 in the third period.

Did Vigneault feel the Rangers let the Kings off the hook?

“I feel when you play against such a good opponent that has all that strength you need to play a full game,” said Vigneault. “For whatever reason tonight, we just weren’t good enough in the third.”

For New York forward Brad Richards, it was a bad news-good news thing. Yes, the loss was disappointing, but “at the same time, we can play with them, too.”

A two-day break before Saturday’s Game 2 gives both teams time to regroup, look at some video, and figure out what needs to be fixed.

“It’s a great result of the hockey game for us, definitely,” said overtime hero Justin Williams. “But we have a lot of things to clean up. Certainly not our best game by any standards. Especially ours.”

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.