DENVER — The Kings celebrated their 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday as though they had won the Stanley Cup, hugging and grinning and venting 82 games' worth of emotion and exhaustion.
Every player in the Kings' locker room believed that Dustin Brown's goal 1 minute and 31 seconds into overtime did more than end their season on a happy note. More, even, than give them a respectable sixth-place finish in the West after Detroit defeated Chicago in overtime and maneuvered the Kings into a first-round playoff matchup with the Vancouver Canucks starting Thursday at Vancouver.
The come-from-behind victory restored some of their swagger, which vanished after the Olympics while they slogged through slow starts and three shootout losses in their previous four games.
"Our game, I think it's coming back," Anze Kopitar said.
If that's true, the timing could not be better. The Kings were 1-2-1 against the Northwest Division champion Canucks this season, the lone triumph being an 8-3 rout of Vancouver at Staples Center on April 1.
This young team, with so many players about to get their first taste of playoff hockey, will need every edge it can find, create or imagine in a hockey-crazed city.
"They're going to get a real taste of playoff hockey right away, a bunch of guys that have never been there," Coach Terry Murray said. "You go to a Canadian city, it's not just the team you're playing against."
Where better to start than Vancouver, where Drew Doughty won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada during his last game there?
"Hopefully, I'll bring that luck with me," said Doughty, whose 40-foot shot in overtime Sunday was saved by Colorado's Craig Anderson but was rebounded from short range by Brown.
"I have a lot of memories of that building and hopefully we can continue to make them happen."
The Kings could have finished fifth if Chicago had won, but they weren't inclined to look back at what might have been.
"We wanted to win this game to give us that opportunity and at least we did our part of it today," Murray said after his team tied a team record with its 46th victory and finished with 101 points, becoming only the third Kings team to record 100 points in a season. The 1974-75 squad earned 105 and the 1990-91 team had 102 points.
"It's a win. It's 100-plus points. That's something that we've been addressing in pregame talks the past several games," he said. "I think it's a great accomplishment. The players, they have to be very proud of themselves. I'm very proud of the way they've played this year. It's a giant of a step that this organization has taken in two years."
They took a big step Sunday with Erik Ersberg in net while Jonathan Quick -- who Murray said would start the playoff opener Thursday -- got a chance to rest and refocus.
Ryan Stoa's goal, recorded when he poked the rebound of his own shot through Ersberg's pads at 9:02 of the first period, was the game's only goal until Jarret Stoll deflected a long shot by Matt Greene past Anderson at 15:28 of the third. By then the Kings were controlling the play, taking 20 shots in the third period and overtime, including Brown's rebound of Doughty's blast.
"This was huge for our confidence," Wayne Simmonds said. "We were down 1-0. Unfortunately, it's been like that the last four or five games. To battle back shows immense character."
They will need every bit of that against the Canucks, who led the West with 272 goals and have NHL scoring champion Henrik Sedin (29 goals, 112 points) as the leader of a formidable lineup.
On Sunday the Kings didn't want to talk about matchups or pitfalls or strategy. They ended the season with a much-needed flush of emotion and they must figure out how to sustain that.
"You hit the reset button now," Brown said. "It's a good way to finish the year, 101 points, something we can all be proud of.
"It's the playoffs. I've never experienced it, but I think, regardless of your opponent, it's about how you play rather than other teams."
Murray predicted the playoffs will be "tremendous" for this largely untested group. Now, for them, the real test begins.
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
A first look
The Kings faced the Vancouver Canucks four times this season. The Kings lost the first three games, 2-1 in a shootout at Staples Center on Oct. 29, 4-1 in Vancouver on Nov. 26 and 3-1 in Vancouver on Dec. 14. But in their last meeting, on April 1 at Staples Center, the Kings dominated, winning 8-3. The Canucks earned the No. 3 seeding by winning the Northwest Division.
34 goals, 81 points.
16 goals, 59 points.
24 goals, 56 points.
29 goals, 112 points.
29 goals, 85 points.
25 goals, 75 points.