LOS ANGELES — The Rangers bent and battled, but they finally broke.
Anze Kopitar, who scored the tying goal late in the third period, beat Henrik Lundqvist at 1:34 of overtime as the Kings overcame a two-goal deficit Thursday night and squeezed past the Rangers, 4-3.
With the point in the second game of a back-to-back on the road trip, the second-place Rangers are 40-23-8 (88 points), three points ahead of the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders have two games in hand.
With 4:10 left in regulation, Milan Lucic’s shot from the right point was tipped by Kopitar through a scrum in front of Lundqvist to tie the score at 3. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault challenged the call, arguing that Tyler Toffoli interfered with Lundqvist, but the score stood upon review.
Lundqvist and alternate captain Derek Stepan ripped the non-call on the goal.
“It was goaltender interference,” Stepan said in a bitter locker room. “It cost us two points tonight. I don’t know what they want Hank to do there. We worked so hard in a back-to-back in a tough building. We deserved better than one point.”
“I’m so frustrated right now. I think you got to play within the rules,” Lundqvist said. “The rule is you can’t have a guy in the crease. I can’t come out to play the shot. As a goalie, you have to make a forward motion and he doesn’t make an effort to get out. I can’t believe the refs, after watching it, can’t get it right. That means you can pretty much put a guy in the crease and as long as the goalie doesn’t get run over, it’s a good goal. Now that you get a chance to watch it, you should be able to get it right.”
Said Vigneault, “I agree with my goaltender. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what he thinks or I think, they’re going to have a great explanation.”
And that explanation by the league was this: “The actions of Ryan McDonagh caused Tyler Toffoli to contact Lundqvist before the puck crossed the goal line.”
The Rangers took a 3-1 lead at 2:36 of the third period. With J.T. Miller screening Jonathan Quick in front, Kevin Hayes’ shot from the left circle bounced off the Kings goaltender and in. Kings coach Darryl Sutter challenged that call, claiming goaltender interference, but a review showed that Miller was not in the paint and that Quick pushed him away.
The Pacific Division-leading Kings, who had outplayed and outshot the Rangers through most of the first 40 minutes, narrowed the deficit when Kyle Clifford, skating alone into the slot, deposited a no-look backhand pass from Jeff Carter behind the goal line.
The Rangers took a 2-1 lead when Dan Boyle collected a loose puck and beat Quick at 13:05 of the second period. It was the third goal by a Rangers defenseman in the past two games; Kevin Klein scored twice in the 2-1 victory in Anaheim on Wednesday.
The Kings dominated the first period, outshooting the Rangers 16-9, but after 20 minutes, it was 1-1.
The Rangers opened the scoring in the first period on a three-on-one with McDonagh and Klein sprinting along with Miller, who was driving down the right side. Miller fired and his wrister eluded Quick on the short side at 11:34. His 19th goal of the season was unassisted.
The 1-0 lead lasted 19 seconds. Dustin Brown lugged the puck with Boyle trying in vain to hold him, got off a shot that went past Lundqvist’s stick side.
The Rangers, who beat Anaheim on Wednesday night, will face San Jose on Saturday to conclude the trip.
Said Vigneault, “We got three points out of four in two of the toughest buildings in the league.”