LOS ANGELES — This is what the Los Angeles Kings do.
But this hasn’t always been what the Los Angeles Kings have done.
It’s a tale as old as the past six weeks: Kings get themselves in a hole that would break most teams during the Stanley Cup playoffs, then they steady themselves and impose their will against an opponent that is unable to match their skill and intensity level.
And as usual, it’s Justin Williams driving the knife through the other team’s heart.
The Kings were sloppy early, stabilized themselves, then dominated the New York Rangers in the third period. Williams scored in overtime to cap a comeback from a 2-0 deficit and give the Kings a 3-2 victory Wednesday night at Staples Center in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Whether it's 2-0 on the scoreboard or 3-0 in a series, the Kings are the bad guy in the movie who continues to resurface no matter how many times he appears dead, the cockroaches that will survive the end of the world.
The Kings out-shot the Rangers 23-5 with Willie Mitchell on the ice at evens.— Robert P. (@RobertJFTC) June 5, 2014
Defenseman Willie Mitchell said the genesis of the Kings’ identity as a team that never gets rattled, that never gets away from its structure, started not long after coach Terry Murray was fired and replaced by Darryl Sutter during the 2011-12 season.
Mitchell recalled sitting in the visiting locker room in TD Garden in Boston the day after Murray was fired in December 2011.
“In 2012, before we made our run, we got our coach fired,” Mitchell said. “And we had to get on a run just to even get in the playoffs. I think going through that adversity…God, I remember we were all sitting in our dressing room out in Boston and that all went down. We were just sitting there looking around like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re here.’
“We felt we were a much better hockey club than we were in the standings. Then we started to get some wins, get some confidence and it started to snowball. We ran into the playoffs and had success. Through that, there were games where we were down and found a way to win and I think that’s a carryover. All those experiences when you get into moments like these is you have that belief system underlying because our core group has been here for a long time.
“There’s no game we’re out of and we always scratch and claw.”
The Kings barreled to the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed, vanquishing the top three seeds in the West along the way. They’re far from the underdogs of 2012 now, but the seeds of confidence that were planted two years ago are continuing to bear fruit in 2014.
This was not a picturesque win for the Kings by any stretch—you won’t find a single quote from a Kings player talking about how well the team played against the Rangers in Game 1. And there is some truth to that, as if not for Jonathan Quick, the Rangers could have had three or four goals in the first period and even the winner in the final minute of the third period when Carl Hagelin was denied on a breakaway.
But that speaks to the greatness of this Kings team, which wasn’t far off from this being their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final. Whether it's fancy stats, stats that wear jorts and a white undershirt with a gravy stain or the immeasurable tangibles of heart, the Kings have it all.
They have all that and an unflinching belief in themselves, in each other and in their system.
As Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times put it, "The Rangers might have scouted the Xs and O's of the Kings' success but probably didn't get a good measure of the Kings' collective determination."
Three times in this postseason and in two consecutive games, the Kings have fallen behind 2-0 before rallying for a victory.
"We’ve done that a few times obviously," Quick said, "but I think it’s not something we want to make a habit of."
Once Drew Doughty tied the score at 2-2 in the second period with a glorious goal that involved a toe drag around Derek Dorsett, it certainly wasn't inevitable that the Kings would win this game, just very, very likely.
Kopitar was not on the ice for a single Rangers shot at 5v5. 9 Kings shots though.— Extra Skater (@ExtraSkater) June 5, 2014
The Kings imposed their will on the Rangers in the third period, outshooting them 20-3. The Rangers didn't even generate a shot until the 11:48 mark, although it was a quality scoring chance from Martin St. Louis. The Kings lived in the Rangers zone, and only by the brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist, who made 40 stops, did this game get to overtime.
Eventually, the Rangers cracked. A puck bounced over the stick of Dan Girardi, who turned it over to Mike Richards, who fed the man they call "Mr. Game 7" because of his resume of big goals and unblemished record in those deciding games.
"I'd like to call him Mr. Game 1, 2, 3 and 4," Mitchell said. "It takes four wins. If he can do that three more times, that would be really nice."
"It's just one game," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said, "not the end of the world."
The world may not have ended Wednesday, but it's looking like it's just a matter of time before the meteor hits and all that remains are the cockroaches that are the Los Angeles Kings.