Henrik Lundqvist did all he could to extend the 2014 Stanley Cup Final for at least one more game.
But after stopping his 48th shot on Friday night, there was no one to do the same to defenseman Alec Martinez on the rebound.
All alone, Martinez scored 14:43 into the second overtime period to turn the Los Angeles Kings from the ultimate comeback kings into the kings of the National Hockey League for the second time in three years.
At his locker, Lundqvist sat dejectedly, with his head in his hands, still wearing his pads 45 minutes after the one on his right leg made his final save of the season.
On Martinez’s goal, the team that finally won its first Stanley Cup — in unlikely fashion, as an eight seed in the Western Conference — during its 45th year of existence two seasons ago, completed an equally improbable journey to another championship with a 3-2 home victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final over the New York Rangers.
Los Angeles began its remarkably resilient trip through this year’s postseason as just the fourth NHL team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit and advance when the Kings did just that to oust San Jose in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Kings then won Game 7s in each of the next two series to become the first NHL club to win Game 7s in three consecutive playoff rounds.
Yet despite taking care of New York in a tidy five games, Los Angeles was fortunate not to lose the series, or at the very least, to avoid facing a Game 6 on the Rangers’ home ice, down 3-2.
Each of the Kings’ three home wins in the series came in overtime periods after they trailed in regulation, and blown calls in Games 2 and 5 might have very well cost New York a pair of wins.
After Los Angeles scored the final three goals to erase a 2-0 deficit and beat New York, 3-2, in overtime in Game 1, a key goal that brought the Kings to within 4-3, before Los Angeles won Game 2 in double overtime, was directly aided by clear interference on Lundqvist that was never called.
In Game 5, former Ranger, right winger Marian Gaborik, scored his league-leading 14th goal of this year’s playoffs, to tie the game, 2-2, with 12:04 left in the third period. The score came on a Los Angeles power play, after a tripping penalty that should have been called on defenseman Jake Muzzin mistakenly went to left winger Mats Zuccarello.
If seeing their ex-player deny their team a Game 6 wasn’t enough, making things a bit more painful for Rangers fans was the timing of Martinez’s goal, which came at 12:28 a.m., New York time, on June 14 — the 20th anniversary of the night the Rangers last won the Stanley Cup, in 1994.
And while each team hit a post in each of the two overtime periods in Game 5, the first of those — which could have continued the series — came from defenseman Rangers Ryan McDonagh. His shot from the left circle hit the far post and bounced through the crease, 4:41 into the first overtime on a New York power play. It was so close, McDonagh began to raise leap and raise his stick in the air, thinking the puck went in.
Long before that, right winger Justin Williams, who skated off with the Conn Smythe trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player, opened the scoring 6:04 into the game, after he sent a puck around the boards to Lundqvist right and eventually out to the left point, where defenseman Willie Mitchell tried a shot from the left point.
Lundqvist saved that one, and then a rebound attempt from center Jarret Stoll in front, but Williams backhanded a second rebound attempt under the right leg of Lundqvist, who was sitting on the ice after stopping Stoll.
However, the Rangers, resilient in their own right (if not quite as much so as the Kings), took the lead with a pair of goals just 3:53 apart in the final stages of the second period.
Taking advantage of a high-sticking penalty on left wining Dwight King, New York used some crisp passing to find the net for only a second time in its 22 power plays (9.1 percent) during the series.
Center Brad Richards passed to the left, to center Derek Stepan, who sent the puck back up top to Richards, who passed to the right, to McDonagh in the middle of the right circle. McDonagh then made a perfect connection with left winger Chris Kreider who made contact directed the puck in the crease, to Quick’s right, and into the net, to tie the game, 1-1, with 4:23 left in the frame.
Nearly four minutes later, with the Rangers shorthanded, thanks to a hooking penalty on center Dominic Moore, left winger Carl Hagelin won a misplaced puck by defenseman Slava Voynov along the boards in New York’s end.
Hagelin played the puck at center ice to center Brian Boyle, who carried it into the Los Angeles zone. Boyle got around defenseman Drew Doughty and moving left, fired right and brilliantly squeezed the puck from a tough angle, into the upper right corner of the net. It immediately bounced out, looking as if it hit the post. But the Rangers had a 2-1 lead with just 30 seconds left in the period.
Less than eight minutes into the third period, Muzzin stuck his right leg out near the New York blue line as Zuccarello came toward him. When then the two became tangled and each fell, it was Zuccarello who went to the penalty box when Muzzin should have gone to his own, instead.
It only took the Kings 17 seconds to take advantage of that break, as center Jeff Carter passed to the right to Doughty, who fired a shot that was saved by Lundqvist.
Gaborik, though, was on the doorstep to poke home the rebound for the goal that would provide two more overtime periods in the series.
With about eight minutes left in regulation, Kings fans chanted, “We want the cup!”
But it would take Los Angeles a while longer to give it to them.
Much of the pressure in the first overtime was applied by Los Angeles, though New York had a few chances toward the end of the session.
Right winger Martin St. Louis was stopped by Quick on a hard shot from the slot with 8:40 to go in the initial overtime, right after a Kings turnover in their own end and two passes to set St. Louis up.
Center Tyler Toffoli swung around and from the middle of the circle, glanced a hard shot off the crossbar with 7:24 remaining in the stanza.
Moments later, left winger Tanner Pearson was stopped by Lundqvist from close range. The rebound went behind the net, where Pearson tried a wrap-around shot on the opposite side but hit the netting near the post.
Williams was then denied on a close redirect try and on an immediate rebound attempt with 4:28 left in the first overtime.
A couple of scrambles in front of the net in the final three minutes of the first overtime nearly led to a New York goal, but Quick came up big each time, as he did on a Kreider breakaway in the final seconds of the extra period.
Another post was hit by the Kings in the first minute of the second overtime before a puck later bounced past Quick and hit the post to his right on a Rangers power play.
Following several more tense moments at each end, Martinez broke out of the Los Angeles end up the left side on a 3-on-2 break. Martinez passed to left winger Kyle Clifford, who passed right for Toffoli to fire a shot from the bottom of the right circle.
The drive was saved by Lundqvist, but the puck caromed to Lundqvist’s right, where Martinez was able to easily put it into an unprotected net before Lundqvist could recover, to touch off a frenzied celebration throughout the Staples Center.
Martinez humbly credited Clifford and Toffoli for his goal that will live forever in Kings lore.
“It was a great play by them, I was just the benefactor,” he said.
He then credited his opposition as well as the character of his own team.
“The New York Rangers are a hell of a hockey club,” Martinez said. “We just had to dig deep and keep grinding. We believed that we were going to win this game.”
Head coach Daryl Sutter noted that throughout his club’s winding road to another title, the Kings built off of things they had learned even in losses.
“I think it takes a lot of effort and will,” he said. “But a lot of times, when you’re losing a game, you’re actually winning a lot of other areas.”
Comparing the Kings’ latest title to its previous one, Williams said, “What we went through this year… the overtimes, Game 7s, makes it so much more special. Every Cup is special, but we earned this one.”
On the other side, the disappointment of coming so close so many times over the course of the series, only to win a lone game in the Cup Final, was crushing for New York, but in a way that left the Rangers — deservedly so — proud of the way they fought.
“It’s pretty hard when lose that way, to see them celebrate,” center Derick Brassard said. “It’s something we wanted to reach. We’re not satisfied with [just] being Eastern Conference champions… you kind of which you could get back Game 1 and Game 2… our goalie gave us a chance to win and we couldn’t get [on more] goal for him.”
Zuccarello added, “We battled really hard… I’m really proud to be a part of this team and [to] be a New York Ranger right now, even though this is the most disappointed I’ve ever been. I’m pretty sure everyone else [on my team] feels the same way.”
Head coach Alain Vigneault, who took the team over this season, admitted, “Obviously, everybody’s disappointed in the outcome… we gave our best shot, our best effort. Three games here went to OT, so what can I say? I’m very proud of our group.”
Like the Kings, the Rangers had to rally from a seemingly impossibly situation early in the playoffs, when they trailed Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, 3-1, before winning three straight games to advance.
Their unlikely run to the Cup Final began after the unfortunate and sad death of St. Louis’ mother during the series and continued when St. Louis scored the first goal of Game 6 of that series, on Mother’s Day.
St. Louis, one of the Rangers’ inspirational leaders, praised his teammates, saying, “I’m proud of every guy in here. We fought hard… we had our chances in overtime. We hit a few posts. It’s a game of inches.”
Reflecting on the season and the series, Lundqvist said, “It was a fun year, a challenging year. We came up short here against a very good team… all three games in this building, we could have won all three.”
But in the end, it was just the Kings’ year. Again.