With less than three minutes left in the first period, Anton Stralman couldn't clear a loose puck in the Rangers' zone, and Jeff Carter -- one of the best Kings on the ice all night -- managed to get the puck to Kyle Clifford in front. Clifford scored his first goal of the playoffs to make it 2-1 and change the complexion of the game.
Drew Doughty, who'd been stripped of the puck on the Pouliot goal, danced in on the left side to tie the game early in the second period. The rest of regulation remained scoreless, despite a frenetic final minute that saw both Hagelin and Carter trade glorious scoring chances, and the Kings owned the ice.
"When you play against such a good opponent that has all that strength, you need to play a full game," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "For whatever reason, tonight we just weren't good enough in the third."
Why did it happen that way?
Vigneault admitted he wasn't exactly sure.
The Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks or San Jose Sharks, who somehow managed to lose four straight to the Kings in the first round after building a 3-0 series lead, might be able to help explain what happened: The Kings happened.
The Kings out-hit the Rangers 45-33. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal admitted his squad wasn't used to the heaviness of the Kings' forecheck.
"I think the last half of the second and third, we took a couple of penalties, and then you're kind of caught on your heels defending a lot more than you want to," Staal said. "They were able to get their forecheck going. We spent a lot more time in our end zone than we're used to. We're not used to defending that much. Somehow we just couldn't grab a hold and get it back going our way."
When a team loses a Game 1 in overtime, it seems perhaps unfair to suggest that it might be devastating, especially to a team such as the Rangers, who trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in the second round and won three straight to get to the Eastern Conference finals.
But this Kings team is different from any of the Rangers' opponents. These Kings players knew they weren't close to being where they can be and have been for much of this playoff spring.
"We found a way to win," said Mike Richards, who delivered the game-winning assist. "But I think everybody wants to forget about this game. Even though we got the win, it's not the poster way to win hockey games in the playoffs. They're a good team, they played us hard, but we have to be better."
Despite the closeness of the game and the early hour of the series itself, it's hard not to feel that as Girardi made that desperate pass into enemy hands, with his teammates already clearing the zone in anticipation of a clean clear, this finals had already taken on a mighty tilt.