With first place in the Pacific Division in their grasp, the Kings squandered a third-period lead and found themselves with a six-game winless streak.
Tom Poti redirected a pass from Alex Kovalev past Cristobal Huet 39 seconds into overtime Tuesday, capping a rally that lifted the New York Rangers to a 3-2 victory at Staples Center. The sellout crowd of 18,542 seemed divided, with New York transplants or loyalists rejoicing as the Rangers skated off happily with their second overtime victory in two nights and the Kings trudged off with a point for the overtime loss but an 0-1-4-1 streak.
"For us, every night's a battle," King Coach Andy Murray said. "We said this morning we think we should have 50 points. Now, we think we should have 52 and we don't. We've got at least five games where we got less than what we should have, in our opinion."
The Kings have 41 points, one behind the first-place Sharks. They're even in games at 37 each.
"This has happened to us a lot this year; I don't know why," center Eric Belanger said of the Kings' inability to protect leads. "We have to learn to keep playing with the lead. I think we're afraid to make mistakes and we're backing up too much. You can't do that against a team with a lot of skills like that."
The Rangers scored first when defenseman Greg de Vries capitalized on the Kings' defensive confusion. While Trent Klatt and Mattias Norstrom went to Alex Kovalev, de Vries skated diagonally in from the left point to the slot to take a pass from Kovalev and was unchecked when he bested Huet at 2:33 of the first period.
The Kings tied it at 4:05. As Ziggy Palffy skated toward the Rangers' zone with Martin Straka on his left, he slipped a quick backhand pass to Straka, who blasted a slap shot from the left circle past goalie Jussi Markkanen for his fifth goal in 13 games since the Kings acquired him from Pittsburgh.
The Kings nearly took the lead at 6:40, when Belanger was set up in the slot for a backhander, but his shot hit the right post.
Huet stood tall when Mark Messier broke in alone while the Rangers were short-handed, just over 13 minutes into the period. Huet remained focused on the puck and got his catching glove on Messier's backhander from a deep angle on the right side. About three minutes later, Palffy made a pylon of two-time Norris Trophy winner Brian Leetch, flicking the puck past the Ranger defenseman's feet and skating in alone on Markkanen, only to hit the left post.
With Eric Lindros serving a hooking penalty, the Kings ended an 0-for-10 power-play drought and surged ahead at 19:03. Jozef Stumpel created the chance when he skated up the left-wing boards and faked a shot but instead passed toward a crowd in front. The puck was redirected into the net by Ranger right wing Jed Ortmeyer, who grimaced in frustration. Stumpel was credited with the goal, his second in two games and third this season.
Huet kept the Kings ahead by thrusting out his leg to stop a shot by Chris Simon in the third period, after Lindros was sprung on a breakaway and inexplicably passed. However, Huet couldn't stop Messier at 8:47. With a delayed penalty pending against King defenseman Jason Holland, Lindros took a shot from the left side that Huet stopped. Messier, who came on as the extra skater, was alone in the slot to flick home the rebound for his team-leading 13th goal and 689th of his career. Poti, on a play similar to de Vries' goal, slipped in from the point to deflate the Kings.
"We still got a point off this game," Belanger said, "but we have a big game [tonight] against Phoenix. The best thing about our sport is you can redeem yourself 24 hours later, and that's what we've got to do."