The Kings wasted a record-setting performance by goaltender Jonathan Quick in their 2-1 double-overtime loss Friday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. With the Kings down three of their regular defenseman including Drew Doughty, who was suspended for a hit on Vegas' William Carrier in Game 1, Quick stopped 54 shots to set a franchise record for most saves in a playoff game.
It was all for naught as Erik Haula ended the match at 15:23 of the second overtime to give Vegas a 2-0 series lead. Paul La Due registered his first career playoff goal with a power play tally for Los Angeles.
Despite entering the series with an advantage at the center position with veterans Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, Los Angeles has been stifled by the Golden Knights tenacity and speed. Vegas has prevented traffic in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, allowing him to see the Kings' attempts, limiting the number of dangerous opportunities at the Golden Knights net.
Fleury has stopped 58 of 59 shots, a statistic that if maintained will lead Vegas into the next round.
Los Angeles coach John Stevens minimized the tough double-overtime loss by saying his team now has to replicate what Vegas did in winning its first two home games.
"There's momentum in a series," Stevens said. "You can lose 7-0 the first night like the Philadelphia Flyers did and come back to win and it's still 1-1. They won two games at home, a lot of people would say they're supposed to win at home.
"Vegas has been a good team at home all year, so now we get to go home and get to work. It's not devastating. We come in here to win a hockey game and we didn't win. Because of double overtime, you just expend a lot of energy. It doesn't matter if you win in regulation or in quadruple overtime. It still counts as one."
Carter knows it is no easy task to beat the Golden Knights, who resemble far more like a Stanley Cup contender than the expansion team they are.
"They are a speedy, highly skilled team," Carter said. "They have no holes in their games and we need to be far better to create chances."
The Kings will be boosted by the return of the former Norris Trophy winner Doughty and a possible return by another veteran defenseman in Jake Muzzin, who missed the first two games with an upper-body injury.
With Vegas in command of the series, coach Gerard Gallant expects Los Angeles' best game of the series as his team attempts to put a stranglehold on their inaugural postseason series and wonders what effect the double-overtime affair will have on both teams.
"The Kings are going to come out real hard," Gallant said. "I don't know what Game 2 is going to take out of both teams. I don't think the pace will be quite the same as it was because the guys are pretty tired and beat up from five periods of hockey on Friday. They are going back to their building and I am sure they are going to come out hard and play real hard. Los Angeles is a great hockey team. It's a great series so far."
Haula, whose game-winning goal was his first career overtime score, mapped out the strategy in the hopes of moving one win away from a series victory Sunday night.
"We just keep playing the same way," Haula said. "We did our job at home and now we go there and go to their building. It's going to be harder. They are going to be better and we know that. We have to be better and it's going to be a grind for sure. They are going to come out really hard in their home building and that's what you can expect. We have to be a little bit better again."
Golden Knights defenseman John Merrill said he believes if his team maintains the style of play that has been problematic for Los Angeles, his team can emerge with a third straight win.
"We have done a lot of good things in the first two games of the series," Merrill said. "We are a fast team and when we have everyone skating it is a very good thing for us. We need to continue to do the things that helped us win and add a little more to it."