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HELENE ELLIOTT

Michal Handzus wins it for Kings in OT

His goal early in the extra period gets them a victory after the team blows a 4-1 third-period lead to Stars.

October 23, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

It shouldn't have been this difficult. But even after adding skill and grit the Kings are still the Kings, in many ways, and no gain comes easily to them.

Michal Handzus' shot from just above the left circle 55 seconds into overtime gave them a 5-4 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday at Staples Center, enabling them to save face after building a 4-1 lead on Anze Kopitar's first career hat trick and a first-period goal by newly promoted first-line winger Wayne Simmonds.

"We started off strong and we were doing all the right things we have to do to win the game," Kopitar said, "and then the good old Kings come out. We go into the third with a three-goal lead and just sitting back and waiting for them to come."

It's significant they were dismayed by their mistakes instead of celebrating Kopitar's performance and two-assist efforts by Dustin Brown and the rehabilitated Alexander Frolov, who played well in his return after a one-game banishment.

Previous Kings teams would have accepted their defensive lapses as normal. This group sounded angry after permitting the Stars to score three times in the third period of their second game in two nights.

"Games like that can't happen for this team," Brown said. "That's why we went through all those learning experiences last year. For this team this year to do that is unacceptable. It's the responsibility of all the 20 guys in here to make sure that doesn't happen.

"Saying that, we got two points."

Jamie Benn cut the Kings' lead to 4-2 with a hard shot from just inside the blue line at 6:58 and Mark Fistric recorded his first NHL goal with a blast that slipped under Jonathan Quick's leg at 8:30. Dallas pulled even at 17:14, when James Neal took a long shot that everyone but the referees knew had gone under the crossbar before caroming out.

The referees, apparently doing double duty after blowing calls during the baseball playoffs, reviewed the play before ruling it a goal.

Handzus' blast allowed the Kings to win their first home game in two weeks, but they could have lived without the nerve-racking ending.

"Everybody's talking about growing and getting together and feeling good about going into the third period with a lead like that," Kopitar said, "but we can't let down like that."

In the Kings' first 10 games, Kopitar has 16 points, a total he needed 20 games to reach last season. The party line from Kings executives last season was that his scoring had dropped because he was becoming a better two-way player, and they rejected suggestions he had regressed in his quest to become a true, carry-the-team-on-his shoulders first-line center. They said it so often, it was almost plausible.

Now, his improvement is undeniable.

"He was the guy we needed him to be tonight," Brown said. "I've been saying this about Kop all year. Scoring goals was expected. It's everything else he's doing that's kind of maybe elevating him to that next level."

Kopitar made a brilliant play on the game's first goal, at 3:54 of the first period, skating on the right wing and fending off defenseman Stephane Robidas while cutting through the slot and slipping the puck between goaltender Alex Auld's stick and the left post. Brown got an assist even though he had jumped off the ice after he passed the puck to Kopitar. It was his 200th career NHL point.

The teams were four-on-four when Simmonds gave the Kings a 2-0 lead at 15:37. Frolov forced a turnover in the neutral zone and controlled the puck as he zipped up the left side. He went to his backhand to pass to Simmonds, who replaced Justin Williams (lower-body injury) on the top line.

The Stars responded on the next shift, a fine solo effort by Neal after he blocked Rob Scuderi's attempt to get the puck deep into Dallas' zone. He zipped back up ice on a two-on-one with Brad Richards and rifled a shot past Quick from about 25 feet.

Kopitar completed his hat trick in the second period, on a short backhander at 7:17 during a power play and a backhander that deflected off Auld at 9:55. The Stars' comeback almost washed out his exploits, but Handzus gave the Kings a victory they must remember and not repeat -- unless they want to remain the same old hapless Kings.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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