DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche was playing its ninth consecutive home game, the Kings their fourth game in four cities in six days.
But this was no mismatch.
In fact, the Kings had the upper hand Saturday in the Pepsi Center, leading by a goal late in the third period and seemingly on the verge of adding another eye-opening victory to one of the NHL's most impressive road records.
But after the Avalanche won, 4-3, it became apparent that there are reasons why it is the defending Stanley Cup champion and the Kings are a step behind, one being that the Avalanche packs a stronger finishing kick.
A goal by Mike Keane, following a turnover by King defenseman Mattias Norstrom, wiped out the King lead with 6:53 to play, and Ville Nieminen scored the winner with 1:09 left in front of 18,007.
"It was a tough ending to the game," said Norstrom after the Kings had lost in regulation for only the fifth time in 26 road games since the end of October. "We've been spoiled with playing well on the road....
"This is not what we really wanted out of this game. We go home from the road trip with a .500 record, but it could have been a lot better."
The Avalanche scored its first goal shorthanded, its second after a turnover by King defenseman Mathieu Schneider, and then tied the score after Joe Sakic, playing in his 1,000th game, stepped in front of a pass by Norstrom in the King zone.
"They'll create enough chances on their own," King Coach Andy Murray said of the opportunistic Avalanche. "We don't have to give them to them."
Sakic's interception led to a shot by the Avalanche captain that was stopped by goaltender Felix Potvin, but the rebound bounced to Keane, who took the puck wide before sweeping it into the net.
On the winner, the Avalanche got lucky, defenseman Rob Blake's shot from the right circle bouncing off Nieminen's right skate into the net.
It was similar to a second-period goal by Adam Deadmarsh, whose left skate got in the way of a shot by Jason Allison and redirected the puck between the legs of goaltender Patrick Roy.
The goal was the second of the game for Deadmarsh, who scored unassisted in the first period after stripping the puck from defenseman Adam Foote.
The goals gave the former Avalanche right wing a team-high 25, seven in seven games since the U.S. Olympian returned from Salt Lake City.
Allison scored the Kings' third goal, giving the burly center 12 points since the Olympic break and putting the Kings ahead, 3-2, with 19:26 to play. Deadmarsh and Ziggy Palffy assisted on the goal, and the line of Allison, Deadmarsh and Palffy has 31 points since the Olympic break.
The problem for the Kings is, theirs is the only productive line. During the same period, the No. 2 line of Bryan Smolinski, Craig Johnson and either Steve Heinze or Nelson Emerson has contributed two points.
"We've got to get production from everyone," Schneider said. "We're relying so heavily on Ally's line. We need other guys, including defensemen, to step up and get offense for us. It's only going to make things easier for us."
Taking care of the puck in their zone would help too, of course.
"That was just a poor play on my part," Norstrom said of Sakic's game-turning interception. "He read it right. I tried to hit the guy up the middle and he picked it off; [it was] just a poor decision on my part.
"I don't know where he came from. I didn't see him. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made the play. I've just got to make a better decision with 8-10 minutes to go in the game, make a safer play than that."
Having squandered a 2-0 third-period lead Thursday night against the Nashville Predators before winning, 3-2, on a goal by Deadmarsh with 13 seconds to play, the Kings again got careless against the Avalanche.
"You get a team down, 3-2, in the third, you've got to finish them off," Schneider said. "We've had trouble hanging onto leads the last few games. We've got to get more consistent in that department.
"We've had a tendency to sit back a little too much. We're sitting on leads and causing ourselves a lot of trouble. We've got to keep the same aggressive style of play."