Kings defenseman Matt Greene checks Dallas center Steve Ott in a battle… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Dustin Brown skated up ice, got as close as he could to the empty net and guided in the puck with seven seconds left.
Finally, in their 78th game, something came easy for the Kings.
Brown's goal wrote a finish to a 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars at Staples Center on Saturday, with the story line being the Kings' finding ways to score without their top two scorers.
In the second period, Wayne Simmonds stuck his stick out and tipped the puck in for the Kings' first goal.
Seven minutes into the third period, Matt Greene sent a shot wide that went off the skate of Dallas' Alex Goligoski for the Kings' go-ahead goal.
These were lightning-bolt moments that shocked the Kings' offense out of its inertia and left the team oh-so-close to clinching a playoff spot.
One more victory or one more Dallas loss -- say, Sunday night against the Ducks -- and the Kings' we're-up-we're-down season will start focusing on the postseason.
"We can exhale for one off day, then we'll have to get back to work," forward Jarret Stoll said.
The relaxation part will be a new experience for the Kings. The work part, they know well.
This was a game the 10th-place Stars desperately needed to win and one where referees turned a blind eye and muted whistles. Neither team had a power play.
"I guess they were gearing up for the playoffs," the Stars' Brenden Morrow said. "We didn't get the memo."
The Kings received the message a day earlier. Coach Terry Murray radically shuffled his lines in playoff fashion in search of offense.
This was the third game without leading scorer Anze Kopitar (ankle injury) and the fifth without second-leading scorer Justin Williams (shoulder injury). How big a hole that left was well represented by the zero shots the Kings had in the third period against Vancouver on Thursday.
The poster boy for the woes on offense was becoming Dustin Penner, who has 23 goals this season but only two in 15 games since he was acquired from Edmonton. He has not scored a point in eight games and has been goal-less in nine.
Penner was a mixed bag Saturday. At times he threw his considerable size around. Other times, he looked like the lead dog in the Iditarod, lugging a sled up ice.
With the former Oilers player shut out again, the Kings went Greene with their offense.
"Goals are tough to come by at this point of the season," said Greene, who scored his second of the season. "You got to find them any way you can."
Greene found his when he coasted in from the blue line and let go of a wild shot that found a kind skate.
Simmonds' goal was another inch-here-inch-there moment. He muscled his way to the net and got his stick on a shot by Willie Mitchell.
"Crash and battle," Simmonds said. "You look at the playoffs, and a lot of games are decided by goals like that."
And the Kings are nearly to the point where they can look at the playoffs.
"We still got to close it out," Greene said.
That, with the Ducks' help Sunday night, might be easy.