On the Verge of Victory, the Rangers Let One Slip Away


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Dustin Brown celebrating after the Kings scored against Rangers goalie Antti Raanta.

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Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

A clash between the Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings stirs emotions for both squads.

The matchup evokes the days of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, who skated on opposite sides in the 1990s, and more recently to two years ago, when the clubs met in the Stanley Cup finals, which the Kings won in five games.

High drama was again palpable on Friday when the Rangers fell behind by 2-0, rallied for a 3-2 lead against the third-string goaltender Peter Budaj, and had a 4-3 advantage in the waning seconds as they were poised for their fifth straight victory.

But the Kings’ leading scorer, Anze Kopitar, scored his third goal of the game with 30 seconds left in regulation, and Tanner Pearson ripped the winner past the backup goalie Antti Raanta at 3 minutes 10 seconds of overtime to lift the Kings to a 5-4 win at Madison Square Garden.

The Kings rebounded after a 5-2 loss to the Islanders on Thursday, while the Rangers (31-18-6) fell short despite scoring a power-play goal late in the third that put them on the edge of victory.

Entering the third period, with the score tied at 3-3, the Rangers summoned something from their struggling power play — 2 for 50 over 18 games — when Kevin Hayes tapped in a perfect pass from Mats Zuccarello at 15:14.

“When your team shows no quit, it’s a big positive,” Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle said. “We stuck with each other and found a way to get the lead.”

But goals from Kopitar and Pearson undid the Rangers’ late-game magic. The tying goal came with Budaj pulled for an extra attacker.

“I figured it would be smart to throw it to the front of the net, and it worked out for me,” said Kopitar, who notched his third career hat trick.

Kopitar has 16 goals and leads the Kings with 50 points. Kopitar, a 28-year-old forward from Slovenia, has led the Kings in scoring each of the last eight seasons.

Pearson, whose goal in overtime, his seventh goal of the season, silenced the crowd and ended the Rangers’ winning streak at four, said he had quickly surmised the situation as the winning play developed.

“I was going to shoot the whole way and I didn’t want to mess up a 2-on-1 pass,” he said.

Just 33 seconds into the contest, Kopitar whipped a shot past Raanta, who had not won a game since November and was starting for the first time in almost a month.

Midway through the first period, Marian Gaborik made the score 2-0 with a wrist shot from the slot for his 12th goal of the season.

Gaborik, a former Ranger, would later limp off the ice and into the dressing room, unable to put weight on his left leg after colliding awkwardly with Rangers forward Dominic Moore. He was seen leaving the arena on crutches.

The Kings came out with a jump, in stark contrast to Thursday’s game, when the Islanders scored three early goals against the shaky backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth.

The Kings started Budaj, an emergency recall from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League after starter Jonathan Quick was injured in a 9-2 win on Tuesday in Boston when he collided with Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes.

After Viktor Stalberg cut the deficit to 2-1 at the 13-minute mark of the first period, Derek Stepan and Zuccarello scored successive goals in the second, and the Rangers had suddenly forged a lead.

The vaunted Kings, winners of 18 of their 28 road games, appeared beatable — especially given that the 33-year-old Budaj had not played in the N.H.L. since facing the Rangers for the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Raanta had last played Jan. 17, a 5-2 loss at Washington. Henrik Lundqvist started the last nine games, winning seven. Raanta (4-4-2) has not won since Nov. 15.

Stepan’s goal came off a giveaway in front of Budaj that the Rangers center promptly flicked into the net for his 10th goal at 7:44. The goal was unassisted.

Zuccarello netted his team-leading 19th when a soft backhand skittered past Budaj at 9:21.

On his second goal of the game, Kopitar was the beneficiary of Milan Lucic’s hustle when he scooped up the puck in the Rangers zone after Dustin Brown outmuscled J. T. Miller. Lucic, the former Bruins forward who has fit in seamlessly with the Kings this season, sent a perfect pass to Kopitar in front for an easy tap in at 15:46 of the middle period.

Despite the defeat, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said the team could derive positives from the game against the sizable and speedy Kings.

“They got some chances and made us pay,” he said. “I like the way we battled back, tied it up and took the lead. It’s a game of inches.”



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