Kyle Clifford provides surprising spark in Kings’ Game 1 win over Rangers

LOS ANGELES — Kyle Clifford scores goals about as often as it rains in Southern California.

The last time he did it was 2013. It might as well have been a lifetime ago.

But Clifford got one Wednesday in the Kings’ Stanley Cup Final opener against the New York Rangers. A big one.

His goal late in the first period brought the Kings back from a 2-0 deficit and a lethargic start, beginning what would become a 3-2 overtime victory at Staples Center in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series.

"Cliffy played a terrific game for us," teammate Justin Williams said. "We get out of that period still down two goals, it certainly could’ve gone either way. That’s the playoffs. There’s little things here or there, second efforts that result in goals that we’re able to come back from deficits.

"Making it 2-1 gives us a little bit of a step toward getting it all the way back."

Clifford is hardly the first person you’d think of to provide a spark. He’s a role player, a left wing whose time on the ice has been infrequent in the postseason. But he isn’t one to complain.

"I’m a role player and I understand that," he said. "We’ve got role players throughout our lineup just like every team does. Our ultimate goal is to win and help the team win."

Clifford scored just three goals in the regular season but none since Dec. 11 at Toronto. His goal Wednesday, off a pass from Jeff Carter behind the net, ended a 37-game playoff drought dating to April 23, 2011.

"I’m just saving it," he deadpanned. "It’s timing."

Clifford also assisted on Drew Doughty’s goal in the second period that tied the game 2-2. And he came up with an impressive dive to stop Carl Hagelin, the Rangers’ speedy winger, on a rush in the second. Clifford reached out with his stick to knock away the puck, then slid forward, causing Hagelin to go down as well.

"You just want to help your team any way you can, whether it’s hits, goals, fights," he said. "We’ve all got a role to do and we’ve just got to execute it."

They did, but not before the Rangers grabbed a lead on goals by Benoit Pouliot and Hagelin, which came with the Kings on the power play.

"Nobody is ever out of it," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Keep plugging away and make a big goal to tie it, make a big play to win it."

The Kings hardly seemed panicked. Clifford got them moving, and Doughty tied the game. It went to overtime before Williams won it.

"With the leadership we’ve got, we’ve got five or six captains here," Clifford said. "They know how to respond to those types of situations. You saw Drew take over in the second period there, and we kind of hopped on his back."