KingsWin2

Captain clutch: Brown scores OT winner, Kings take Game 2

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LOS ANGELES — When the Kings needed someone to step up, the captain answered the call.

Dustin Brown scored the winner 10:26 into the second overtime on Saturday night, tipping home a Willie Mitchell point shot to give the Kings a 5-4 win over the New York Rangers and two games to none lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

For Brown, the goal capped off one of his most emphatic performances of the postseason. He led all Kings forwards with six hits and finished with over 26 minutes of ice time, his highest total of the playoffs. The goal occurred during the second straight OT game played between the Rangers and Kings; it also marked the first time in NHL history that three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals opened with a pair of overtime games (L.A. and New Jersey went to extra time twice in 2012; the Bruins and ‘Hawks did it last year as well.)

Tonight’s game had plenty more to offer than just Brown’s OT heroics, however. Like in Game 1, both Los Angeles and New York engaged in an entertaining opening 60 minutes that featured a number of scoring chances.

And just like in Game 1, the Rangers couldn’t hold onto a two-goal lead.

Check that — the Rangers couldn’t hold onto three two-goal leads.

New York raced out to its first in the opening period — Ryan McDonagh opened the scoring at the 10:48 mark, and Mats Zuccarello made it 2-0 eight minutes later when he scored his fifth of the playoffs.

In the second period, L.A. wasted little time erasing the deficit.

The Kings cut the lead to one just 1:46 in, when Jarret Stoll capitalized on a bad Brad Richards turnover and some sloppy defensive zone work from New York. Ten minutes later, the Rangers restored their two-goal advantage when Martin St. Louis scored on his power play — the first Blueshirts goal with the man advantage this series — but the Kings replied almost immediately when Willie Mitchell scored his team’s first power play goal of the Stanley Cup Final at the 14:39 mark.

Eleven seconds after Mitchell scored, the Rangers took advantage of some poor Jonathan Quick puck handling (Mitchell’s wasn’t great either). Derick Brassard scored, giving New York a 4-2 lead they’d carry into the third period.

Down a pair of goals — and stop us if you’ve heard this one before — the Kings found a way to claw back.

It began with the most questionable and controversial goal of the series, as Dwight King appeared to interfere with Henrik Lundqvist while tipping home Matt Greene’s point shot. Lundqvist was livid following the goal, protesting that King was camped out in his crease; adding to the frustration was that, earlier in the game, the Rangers were whistled on a goalie interference penalty when Benoit Pouliot tangled with Jonathan Quick.

Kings’s goal stood, however, and that seemed to give L.A. the momentum it needed. Marian Gaborik snapped home his NHL-best 13th of the playoffs at the 7:36 mark, which capped the regulation scoring and sent the teams into overtime.

In the extra frames, both goalies performed well. Lundqvist stopped 11 of 12 shots to finish with 39 saves overall; Quick was perfect on all nine shots faced to finish with 34 saves on the night.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how the Rangers respond to a second disappointing loss. They’ve now blown four two-goal leads in two games against the Kings and dropped a pair of OT defeats. For a team that will need to win at least one game at Staples to capture the Stanley Cup, those missed opportunities will loom large.

For the Kings…well, what more can be said? This team has shown remarkable resilience all postseason and did it again tonight, mounting a series of comebacks while looking completely unfazed by the prospect of falling behind. The Kings have proven to be a tough out all spring, and that’s continued through the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.