Kings goalkeeper Jonathan Quick stops a shot by Coyotes winger Radim Vrbata… (Mark J. Terrill, Associated…)
The Kings went from the sublime to straining within 24 hours, too fatigued and emotionally drained after their thrilling victory at San Jose on Wednesday to consistently put much oomph into their performance Thursday night against Phoenix at Staples Center.
But once again relying on mental strength more than the purely physical kind, they pulled out a 3-2 victory over the Coyotes when Justin Williams scored in the eighth round of the shootout and Scottie Upshall was stopped by Jonathan Quick, ending the longest shootout in which the Kings have been involved.
For the Kings, who played their sixth one-goal game in their last seven and improved to 10-1-3 in one-goal decisions, Jack Johnson, Michal Handzus and Drew Doughty also scored against goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in the tiebreaker. Peter Mueller, Petr Prucha and Robert Lang scored against Quick.
The Kings are now 14-0-0 in games they've led after two periods, but this wasn't easy. They couldn't hold leads of 2-0 in the first and 2-1 after the second, as the Coyotes pulled even on a jammed-in power-play goal by Radim Vrbata at 3:12 of the third.
They're not supposed to be able to give back leads and still win -- but they're doing it.
"We're not trying to, believe me," said Johnson, who scored the Kings' second goal, at 13:37 of the first period.
"We kept saying we've got to quit going to these overtimes and get 'em over in 60 minutes. It's long enough. We keep finding a way. Our goaltenders have been fantastic for us in regulation and in shootouts and we go into every game expecting to win and knowing that we can win, no matter who it is."
The Kings won their third consecutive game and sixth in seven to become the first Western Conference team to 20 wins. With 43 points they matched the best 33-game start in franchise history, previously accomplished when they were 21-11-1 in 1988-89.
Best of all for the Kings, they moved to within one point of the Pacific Division-leading Sharks, who have a game in hand.
"They're the team that we need to catch right now," Johnson said. "We've got our sights set on them and we're trying to keep the gap between us and everyone else behind us growing, so hopefully we can catch them before too long."
Oscar Moller scored the game's first goal, at 4:11 of the first, after winger Wayne Simmonds used his strength to get past several defenders, skate behind the net, and feed Moller in the slot for a knuckling shot.
Johnson made it 2-0 after he had hit the crossbar and the rebound came back to him for a blast that appeared to be deflected before it eluded Bryzgalov. Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll got the assists, giving Stoll a six-game point streak.
The Coyotes, who had won their previous five games, cut that lead in half at 16:55 of the first when Upshall finished off a two-on-one with Matthew Lombardi by catching Quick too far over to the left side of the net.
Vrbata tied it during a power play. Prucha beat Brad Richardson on a faceoff in the Kings' end to gain possession of the puck, and Prucha got the puck back to the blue line to Keith Yandle. He passed to Zbynek Michalek, who took a shot that hopped around in front of the net. Martin Hanzal jabbed at it before Vrbata poked it inside the right post at 3:12.
"They're a pretty good team. They manufactured a few good scoring chances there," Quick said.
But that was all the scoring until the shootout, a contrived but dramatic ending.
"We just want to make it more exciting for the fans," Kings center Anze Kopitar said, before laughing and saying he was joking.
"We blew it a couple times already, but the points are two points. It's not like we wanted to give that one away. We'll definitely take the two. We'll build on that and next time we'll go for two points in regulation."
For the Kings, that would be positively sublime.