Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist lets Anze Kopitar’s game-winner slip by him as the Kings beat the Blueshirts in overtime 4-3 on Thursday night.
LOS ANGELES – Chris Kreider couldn’t get a breakaway wrist shot past Jonathan Quick late in Thursday night’s second period at Staples Center despite the Kings goalie admitting to Kreider he was expecting a backhand move.
“Déjà vu, man,” said Kreider, who unforgettably fell victim to Quick’s reflexes and posts in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. And that wasn’t even the worst flashback forced upon the Rangers in this 4-3 overtime loss.
Henrik Lundqvist (33 saves) stewed at his locker after coughing up a 3-1 lead in the third period, reminded of how officials had allowed the Kings to crowd his crease back in June 2014 despite vehement protests.
Anze Kopitar’s game-tying goal at 15:50 of Thursday’s third period was scored with L.A. forward Tyler Toffoli standing in the crease, impeding Lundqvist’s ability to step into a save. Lundqvist, making his first start at Staples Center since the Rangers’ Game 5 double-OT Cup Final elimination on June 13, 2014, didn’t mince words about whether his history here added extra emotion.
“Well, when you get calls like that you definitely flash back, no question,” Lundqvist said.
Alain Vigneault challenged the goal expecting a sure reversal, but the NHL’s emailed ruling said officials Dean Morton and Brian Pochmara “determined that the actions of New York’s Ryan McDonagh caused Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli to contact Lundqvist before the puck crossed the goal line,” citing Note 2 of Rule 78.7 (ii).
Lundqvist wouldn’t buy it, despite the Rangers (40-23-8, 88 points) earning a third point in two nights following Wednesday night’s 2-1 win in Anaheim behind Antti Raanta’s 22 saves. Derek Stepan, the last Ranger off the ice after Kopitar also tipped home the game-winner at 1:34 of OT, screamed at the referees, too.
“I’m so frustrated, after the way we battled all game,” Lundqvist began. “I think you’ve just got to play with(in) the rules. The rule is you can’t have a guy in the crease. I can’t come out to play the shot. As a goalie when you try to make a save you have a forward motion, and it doesn’t take any effort to get out. And I can’t believe the ref, after watching it, is not getting it right. That means you can pretty much put a guy in the crease and as long as the goalie doesn’t get run over, it’s a good goal.”
Vigneault, who climbed past his players down the bench to the boards for an explanation from Morton, said, “I agree with my goaltender.” But the Blueshirts couldn’t argue with this: They again fell back on their heels protecting a lead, like they had in last Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 OT loss in Detroit.
The Rangers have a 35-3-2 record when they hold opponents to two goals or fewer, and a 5-20-6 record when they surrender three or more. It’s a simple equation, and it explains this stretch of three defeats in the last four games: they lost to Detroit (3-2), Pittsburgh (5-3) and L.A. (4-3) and beat Anaheim (2-1).
“I’m not gonna judge (that call),” Mats Zuccarello said. “We were up 3-1 and we weren’t able to win. We battled hard but they’re a strong team and they just kept coming at us.”
Kopitar (l.) celebrates his winner with teammate Jeff Carter.
Kopitar killed the Rangers this season with five goals in two games. He scored a hat trick on Raanta in a 5-4 OT win at the Garden on Feb. 12. He scored Thursday’s game-tying goal after beating Dominic Moore on both a face-off and net-front battle. Then he beat Derick Brassard on the OT draw before fending off Keith Yandle to tip Jake Muzzin’s point shot in for the game-winner.
Twice the Rangers surrendered Kings goals shortly after scoring one of their own. In the third period, shortly after taking a 3-1 lead on Kevin Hayes’ 12th of the year, Yandle turned it over on a struggling defensive pair with Dan Girardi, and Brassard lost Kyle Clifford in front after being hobbled by a blocked shot for an L.A. goal that made it 3-2 at 4:46.
J.T. Miller (goal, assist), the Rangers’ best skater on this night, created Hayes’ goal 2:46 into the third by driving forcefully to the net for an initial shot and crowding Quick’s crease with a screen as Kevin Klein (assist) threw the puck low and Hayes buried the rebound.
Dan Boyle’s snap shot off a Viktor Stalberg assist at 13:05 of the second period had given the Rangers a 2-1 lead entering the third. Boyle pounced on a misplay by Kings captain Dustin Brown (goal, assist).
The Pacific Division-leading Kings (43-22-5, 91 points) controlled the start and outshot the Rangers 11-4 through the game’s first 11-and-a-half minutes. But Miller roared down ice after a huge Lundqvist 4-on-4 save on Tanner Pearson and snapped a right wing shot short side unassisted for a 1-0 lead at 11:34.
That lead held all of 19 seconds. The Kings’ Brown abused Boyle off the wall and fired far side from the high slot through a screen by Jeff Carter (two assists) for the 1-1 tie at 11:53.
The Rangers responded with a strong push, but Quick made two amazing saves in the final four minutes of the first at the doorstep on Brassard off a forecheck and Tanner Glass off the rush. Rick Nash made a goal-saving takeaway on Kopitar and continued diligent defense but couldn’t produce offense.
Lundqvist did surrender a big lead, but he still is likely to start at least eight of the Blueshirts’ 11 remaining games given the tight standings with the third-place Islanders (85 points, two games in hand) and wild-card Pittsburgh Penguins (84 points, game in hand) close behind.