By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The New York Rangers lost the Stanley Cup Finals opener but gained confidence in the process on Wednesday as they proved to themselves and their doubters they can compete with the favored Los Angeles Kings.
Despite losing their grip on a 2-0 lead and watching the Kings skate to a 3-2 overtime triumph, the Rangers managed to salvage good vibes in moving forward with their first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years.
"(We understand) that it wasn't our best and we have to look at what we did well and learn from that," said Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein. "We can get better for Game Two."
Blowing an early two-goal advantage and a chance to steal a critical road game could have been heartbreaking for New York, but it was instead enlightening as they did well to temper the Kings' potent attack.
Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist deserves his share of the credit, after finishing with 40 saves.
In the nail-biting third period, with the game tied at 2-2, Los Angeles took a 20-3 advantage in shots over the Rangers who narrowly held on by the thread of Lundqvist's goaltender glove.
"It was intense," said Lundqvist, the Rangers' all-time franchise leader in playoff wins with 42.
"They threw a lot (at me) to create chances from rebounds. There were a couple close calls."
Lundqvist has made a career out of dodging close calls while piling up a glittering list of achievements. He helped Sweden to the 2006 gold medal at the Turin Olympics, and took home the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top netminder in 2012.
He has served as the Rangers backbone for nearly a decade and on too many nights has rescued a struggling offense.
However, the 32-year-old Swede could not pull off the feat on Wednesday. Carl Hagelin netted a shorthanded goal in the first period to put the visitors ahead 2-0 but New York ended the game with a scoring drought of more than 49 minutes.
Despite the lack of offense, the Rangers did flash plenty of speed in creating opportunities that may pay dividends later on in the best-of-seven series.
"That's going to be our key to try to win the series (our speed)," said Hagelin. "We did a great job of getting breakaways, we just didn't score.
"Our mindset going into the series tonight (was that we can play with them). Anything can happen."
The Rangers have certainly proved that this post-season as they have consistently advanced despite being the underdog in each series.
New York prevailed in a pair of Game Sevens in the opening two rounds before beating the Montreal Canadiens in six games to clinch the Eastern Conference title.
Los Angeles will likely be their toughest challenge yet, but in many aspects the Rangers passed their opening test before Kings winger Justin Williams ended the game with his game-winning shot in overtime.
"It feels good to have the first one (game) underway and start building on something," said an optimistic Lundqvist.
"Obviously, we were looking for the first win, but we'll try to get the next one."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)