LOS ANGELES — For the second time in three years, the Los Angeles Kings are Stanley Cup champions.
The Kings beat the New York Rangers, 3-2, tonight in a wildly entertaining, painfully tense Game 5 at Staples Center that went to double overtime and finally ended on an Alec Martinez goal after 94:43 of total action.
Martinez buried a rebound that Henrik Lundqvist put right on the defenseman’s stick off a Tyler Toffoli shot.
Unlike the 2012 Kings who romped to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history while losing just four times, it took the 2014 version 26 games to get it done, tying them with the 1987 Flyers and 2004 Flames for the most contests in one postseason. Along the way, the Kings erased a 3-0 series deficit versus the San Jose Sharks, took out their crosstown rivals from Anaheim after trailing 3-2, and eliminated the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in a memorable seven-game series that went to overtime in the decider.
Tonight’s game could’ve ended earlier, and it could’ve gone either way. In the first overtime, Ryan McDonagh hit the post squarely on a New York power play. Toffoli hit the cross bar a little later on. Chris Kreider had a breakaway that Jonathan Quick stopped. Justin Williams, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, had chances. So did Jeff Carter. And Rick Nash. And others.
In the second overtime, the Rangers hit the post again when Mats Zuccarello tipped a Dan Girardi point shot with Kyle Clifford in the box for boarding Derek Dorsett. Not long after, Nash was staring at an empty net, but his shot tipped off Slava Voynov’s stick.
Lundqvist was brilliant once again for the Rangers, stopping 48 shots. He entered tonight’s must-win with a 1.00 goals-against average and .971 save percentage in the five elimination contests the Rangers had played this postseason, allowing just one goal in each game. He was the major reason the Kings didn’t end things in Game 4. But he couldn’t rescue his team again tonight.
The Kings got the start they’d been looking for, as Williams opened the scoring at 6:04 of the first period, before the Rangers had even managed their first shot on goal. Williams, renowned for scoring big goals in the playoffs, slid a loose puck past Lundqvist on a play that started with a Willie Mitchell point shot. Dwight King and Jarret Stoll also had rebound chances in front, drawing three Rangers to two Kings, before Williams, left open, pounced.
The Rangers may not have started well, but they fought back valiantly in the second period, scoring two late goals that left the crowd in a temporary state of shock.
First came Kreider on the power play, one-timing a flawless pass from McDonagh to tie it at 15:37. The goal was just the second power-play marker of the series for the Rangers, who had gone 1-for-19 with the man advantage before Kreider scored.
Then, with the Kings on the power play, speedy forward Carl Hagelin beat Voynov to a loose puck along the boards in the neutral zone. Hagelin got it to big Brian Boyle, who beat a weary Drew Doughty wide, before firing a perfect shot over Quick’s left shoulder to put the Rangers up 2-1 with 30 seconds left in the middle frame.
All of a sudden, a trip back to Madison Square Garden for Game 6 became a very real possibility.
The Kings started the third period uncertainly; however, a controversial tripping penalty to Zuccarello came at 7:39, opening the door for Marian Gaborik to poke a rebound between Lundqvist’s legs at 7:56, after the Rangers’ star goalie failed to control a point shot from Doughty.
Los Angeles nearly scored again late in the third – Carter ripped one high from the slot with five minutes left, and Jake Muzzin had a one-timer go wide with mere seconds remaining – but regulation time expired with the score tied, bringing on overtime for the third time in the series.
The Kings once again hoisted the Cup at home, just as they did in 2012. The five other championships won in the last seven years were clinched by road teams.
For the Rangers, there’s bitter disappointment after coming so very close to forcing Game 6 Monday at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers would have had a chance to force an anything-can-happen Game 7 back in Los Angeles.