Kings center Jarret Stoll celebrates after scoring a second period goal… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Given the Kings' happy but subdued reaction Wednesday after they had clinched a playoff spot with a 3-2 shootout victory over Phoenix at Staples Center, you'd think they do it all the time.
For the Kings, who went from 2002 to 2010 without making the playoffs, qualifying two years in a row is their version of all the time.
But now that they've secured a spot, they're determined to continue climbing the ladder. A chance will come in back-to-back games against the Ducks starting Friday at Anaheim.
"It is a bit of a relief but at the end of the day it's not what we want. We want to get home ice," said goaltender Jonathan Quick, who improved to 10-0 in the tiebreaking procedure by yielding only one goal in the shootout, while Michal Handzus and Jarret Stoll scored for the Kings.
"That's what we're looking to do. We have it in our hands."
The Kings moved up to fourth place, a point ahead of Nashville and Phoenix, thanks to Quick's remarkable performance in the shootout.
Of course, the shootout vanishes when the regular season ends and teams play overtime until they drop, but the Kings would not have gotten this far without Quick's steely nerves.
"Sometimes he amazes me as to how he comes out at the end of the day in shootout situations," Coach Terry Murray said. "He had to make the stops for us to win, and he did."
The energy generated by the line of rookie left wing Kyle Clifford, center Brad Richardson and right wing Wayne Simmonds also was instrumental in the Kings' securing a playoff spot in their fourth chance.
That trio produced the tying goal, at 17:03 of the second period, after Simmonds pushed past defenseman Keith Yandle on the right side and fed a pass to Clifford, who drove hard to the net and redirected the puck past goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
"That's a glimpse of the future," Coach Terry Murray said.
And a pretty nice vision in the present for a team that's still struggling to produce goals while Justin Williams (dislocated shoulder) and Anze Kopitar (ankle surgery) are out of the lineup.
They've scored only nine goals in their five full games without Kopitar — and their power play, never reliable this season, is 0 for 12 in that span — so Clifford's goal was a nugget of gold.
"It tells me he's a clutch player and he can play in the playoffs," said Stoll, who was set up on the Kings' first goal, at 12:21 of the first period, on a sensational end-to-end rush by Dustin Brown.
"Cliffie's gotten better as the season has gone on and the games have become more important, and those are signs that in him, as a first-year guy just coming in, that's huge to see. He's doing a tremendous job not only fighting and being physical but he's scoring goals and making plays."
Clifford, 20, was the youngest player in the locker room and probably the calmest as the playoffs approach. "We have a great team here and we're definitely looking forward to it," he said.
The Coyotes made the Kings sweat Wednesday. After Stoll gave the Kings the lead with his 20th goal this season — marking the first time the Kings have had six 20-goal scorers since 1992-93 — the Coyotes responded 1:39 later with a goal by Lee Stempniak from the slot. Taylor Pyatt tapped in the rebound of a shot by Stempniak to put Phoenix ahead at 17:58 of the first period, but Clifford's goal put them even.
The Coyotes took the only four shots in overtime but were stymied by Quick, who frustrated them in the shootout to set off cheers at Staples Center.
"The season is not over yet," Clifford said. "We've still got two big games coming up."
And the playoffs after that. No Kings fan can be blase enough to forget that.