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Justin Williams’ OT goal gives Kings the Stanley Cup opener

LOS ANGELES CA - JUNE 04:  Drew Doughty #8 Los Angeles Kings celebrates with Kyle Clifford #13 after scoring

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 04: Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates with Kyle Clifford #13 after scoring a goal against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers to tie the game in the second period during Game One of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Staples Center on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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Updated: June 4, 2014 11:16PM



LOS ANGELES — Being a hockey player in Los Angeles used to be easy. Nobody knew who you were, and nobody cared. This suited Kings defenseman Drew Doughty just fine.

“It’s changed drastically,” Doughty said. “I don’t know if I like it better or not. I, for sure, don’t like it better, actually. The beards we all have don’t help. But back in the day, we could just pretty much roll in anywhere, and there’s no way anyone would know who you were, no possible way. And now it seems like everywhere we do go, we are getting recognized. It’s kind of more like when you’re back home in Canada. It’s great because we’re bringing more fans to the game, we’re making hockey a presence in California. But that was kind of the bonus of playing here, too — you could do what you wanted and not get in trouble for it.”

Not anymore. Some 18,000 pairs of eyes at Staples Center — and millions more at home — were trained on Doughty during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night as he toe-dragged New York Rangers winger Derek Dorsett out of his skates and scored a spectacular goal to tie it at 2-2 in the second period, eventually sending the game to overtime, where Justin Williams scored at 4:36 to win the game and give the Kings a 3-2 victory and a 1-0 series lead.

For Williams, it was yet another clutch goal for the man who’s earned a reputation as “Mr. Game 7.”

“I’d like to call him Mr. Game 1, 2, 3 and 4,” defenseman Willie Mitchell joked. “It takes four wins. If he can do that three more times, that would be really nice.”

The Kings erased an early 2-0 deficit after the Rangers got goals from Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin. Pouliot’s actually came after Doughty coughed up the puck while trying to make another toe drag, leading to a Pouliot breakaway. Hagelin’s came shorthanded after Jonathan Quick stopped his breakaway attempt, only to see the puck bounce in off Slava Voynov’s skate.

But as the Hawks learned three times during the Western Conference final, the Kings don’t sweat 2-0 deficits.

“It certainly helps that we’ve done it time and time again … [but] we certainly don’t want to make a habit out of this,” Williams said, even though it appears to be far too late for that.

Kyle Clifford scored late in the first after Jeff Carter won a board battle behind the net, then Doughty took a slick feed from Justin Williams before making his sweet move and a sweet shot to tie it at 2-2. From there, Henrik Lundqvist was the only thing keeping New York in the game, making 40 saves — the Kings outshot the Rangers 14-0 over the first 12 minutes of the third period, a fact that left New York coach Alain Vigneault baffled.

“When you play against such a good opponent that has all that strength, you need to play a full game,” he said. “And for whatever reason tonight, we just weren’t good enough in the third.”

The game was Doughty in full — the aggressive play that led to a turnover and a goal the other way, then the spectacular score, followed by an embellishment penalty early in the third period which left him irate and screaming at the referees.

Much has been made in the ramp-up to this series about Doughty’s competitive nature, and the maturation process that has allowed him to channel it rather than become consumed by it.

“When I get angry, I kind of turn it on,” Doughty said. “I try to throw my emotions in the right way. Sometimes I don’t. It was a bad turnover [on the Pouliot goal]. I wasn’t happy with myself. I didn’t want to try to do too much to make up for it, but I had to be a better player than I was on that play.”

As for his antics after the diving call, after he wanted one called against the Rangers earlier?

“I didn’t really control my emotions too well at that point,” he said with a broad smile.

With his spectacular performance for Team Canada at the Olympics in Sochi, and his brilliant play so far in the postseason, Doughty suddenly is being touted as maybe the best defenseman in the game. The Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith is the favorite to win the Norris Trophy for a second time later this month, and Doughty isn’t even a finalist. But while Doughty might like a quiet, undisturbed evening out with friends, put him in a tournament when the lights are their brightest, and he’s at his best.

He had a goal and six assists in the Kings’ seven-game victory over San Jose in the first round. And he had three goals and four assists in the seven-game defeat of the Hawks, logging between 26 and 30 minutes a night — 39:04 in the epic Game 5, in which he had nine shots on goal. The smooth-skating, puck-moving Doughty also had four goals and two assists in just six games in Sochi.

And he’s only 24, with two gold medals and one Stanley Cup to his name, and perhaps another on the way. No, the Hawks don’t have the market cornered on decorated young superstars, just as they don’t have the only shot at forming some semblance of a dynasty in the Western Conference. The Kings, with Doughty leading the charge, will be there along with them for years to come.

“You look at every great team in history, they’ve always had that great defenseman,” Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. “Whether it’s [Niklas] Lidstrom, [Sergei] Zubov, [Chris] Chelios, go right through the list. We all know how important those guys were. He’s got a ways to catch those guys, but that’s his goal, to be in that class some day.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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