This is what it takes to win championships: an indomitable will and a refusal to give in when adversity strikes again and again and again.
Someday, if the Kings are lucky, they will win as many Stanley Cup titles as the Red Wings have captured.
Until then, they can look at Detroit's 2-1 triumph Thursday and marvel at how thin the difference can be between victory and defeat and how close they came to bridging that gap.
Detroit rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped 51 shots before yielding a fluky power-play goal to Ryan Smyth at 15:38 of the third period. But the Red Wings -- undermanned because top goal scorer Tomas Holmstrom broke his foot Wednesday -- came back to score on Jonathan Quick with 17.3 seconds left in the third and moved to within three points of the Kings in the tight Western Conference standings.
Darren Helm won a battle for the puck in the corner and flicked a shot that deflected off Quick's stick and into the net, potentially a turning point for the Red Wings in their quest to move into a playoff position and for the Kings, who are still learning how to win.
"We did pretty much everything we could except get it past him," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of Howard.
The Kings' 52 shots represented a season high and they set a club record by taking 27 shots in the second period. The line of Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown took 23 shots.
"At the end of the second period I looked up and said, 'Wow,' " said Howard, who took a nasty shot from Jack Johnson on the left elbow at 11:12 of the third period and was momentarily stunned but stayed in the game.
"Part of being a goaltender is giving your team a chance to win. Our penalty killers did a great job. It was a great team effort tonight."
The Kings' effort was strong too, but they still saw their three-game winning streak end.
"It's unfortunate. It's a very tough game. I hope it's not a game that comes back to haunt us later on as we get down to the end of the season," Kings Coach Terry Murray said ruefully. "Even to get a point out of this would have been real important."
The Red Wings scored the only goal of the first period, just beating the buzzer with two-tenths of a second left. They had just finished a power play and controlled the puck in the Kings' zone, getting it to defenseman Brian Rafalski for a long shot. Quick kicked out his pad and stopped that shot but the rebound caromed into the slot. Valtteri Filppula took a shot that Quick stopped but the puck dribbled behind the goalie and Dan Cleary banged it in by the right post.
The goal was Cleary's first since Dec. 6. He had missed the Red Wings' previous 12 games because of a shoulder injury.
The Kings had a couple of good chances late in the second period and tested Howard and the Detroit defense by taking eight shots on a late power play.
"We had a lot of play around their net," Murray said. "You've got to give their goaltender a ton of credit."
The Kings didn't break through until the third. With Todd Bertuzzi in the penalty box, Jarret Stoll took a shot from the blue line that went wide of the net. But the puck caromed out to the left circle, where Brown pounced on it. He didn't get a good shot, but he did get it fluttering toward the net, where Smyth was stationed and able to bat it down at 15:38.
That gave the Kings new life, but Helm and the Red Wings shut them down. It wasn't the kind of skillful goal that past Detroit teams have been known for, but it was a thing of beauty for the Red Wings -- and a disheartening moment for the Kings.
Outplaying the Red Wings wasn't consolation enough.
"It was a great game I think," Brown said, "but at the end of the day they're three points behind us now."
And creeping up rapidly. Unless the Kings learned their lesson and can apply it in the future.