- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Terry Murray wasn’t sure how to answer the question. The Los Angeles Kings coach has been many things during his 31-year career in the NHL, but a doctor has never been one of them. So when he was asked how limited Kings right winger Justin Williams would be in his first game back since dislocating his right shoulder three weeks ago, he could only go off of what he saw in practice.
“Scratching the top of your head is basically what he couldn’t do,” Murray said.
It was an appropriate analogy, considering that’s basically all Murray has done while watching his sputtering offense since losing Williams and
leading scorer Anze Kopitar within six days of each other toward the end of the regular season.
The Kings’ offense was at its head-scratching worst as L.A. opened Game 1 of its first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, ultimately resulting in a bitter 3-2 overtime loss.
Forget about goals; the Kings were lucky to simply register shots on goal in the first period. San Jose outshot L.A. 14-3 and needed only 28 seconds to take a 1-0 lead as Dany Heatley knocked in a rebound.
Without Kopitar and Williams in the lineup, the Kings were able to score on only one of 23 power plays at the end of the regular season. They continued to be ineffective with their first two power plays Thursday night and were outshot 18-4 nearly midway through the second period.
Then a desperate team turned to a veteran desperate to get back on the ice to save them from a seemingly desperate predicament.
Williams wasn’t even sure how effective he would be when he returned. He had tried his best to simulate game conditions during practices leading up to the game. He told Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to go at him hard and not to let up. He wasn’t going to be effective if he couldn’t shake off checks, and he wasn’t going to be much help if he couldn’t handle even the routine hip checks from teammates.
It didn’t take long for Williams to make his presence felt and let everyone -- including himself -- know he wasn’t going to be slowed by his right shoulder or the uncomfortable harness he must wear now on the ice.
“There was nowhere to go but up,” Williams said. “They had outshot us 18-4 even though we had two power plays, but we stepped it up after that.”
The Kings tied the score on only their fifth shot 7:25 into the second period with a power-play goal set up by Williams. After the Sharks failed to convert on a short-handed opportunity, Williams took the pick in the middle of the ice passed it to Dustin Brown on his left, who beat Antti Niemi on a one-timer.
After the Sharks responded with a goal of their own, Williams tied the score with 3:40 left in the second period when he beat Niemi on a quick wraparound. Williams was left unattended when Ryan Smyth was double-teamed by a couple of San Jose defensemen behind the net who could only watch as Williams scored unguarded.
“I’m trying to bring the element of offense and the element of creativity out there,” Williams said. “Playoff time everyone is so geeked up and really has their emotions running high that everyone plays so well so it’s easy to fit in anywhere.”
Although the Kings lost in overtime, the shot differential in the game was essentially even late in the game before a flurry of San Jose shots in overtime finally gave the Sharks the win and a 45-35 shots on goal advantage.
“The turning point was the start of the second period,” Williams said. “They took it to us pretty good. They got exactly what they wanted at the start of the game, but I thought in the latter part of the second and the third period we were definitely at least even or had the better opportunities.”
The Kings had opportunities in large part because of Williams’ presence on the ice and his return to the lineup, which desperately needed a shot in the arm.
“He played really well,” Murray said. “He’s very creative. He did stuff he’s been doing for us all year long. He’s able to get away from pressure, he’s able to find people and he’s got good vision on the ice. He definitely had an impact on the ice tonight.”
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