Kings forward Anze Kopitar controls the puck near the boards during the… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
When the Kings began a daunting stretch of 10 straight road games, they were showing signs of emerging from a deep funk in which they had lost 10 of 15 games.
After a 3-2 victory Wednesday over the Ducks at Anaheim gave them a remarkable 6-1-3 record in that long and winding trip, the Kings marveled, if only for a moment, at what they had accomplished.
"We needed it. It was make or break for sure. We knew it. Everyone knew it," center Jarret Stoll said after the Kings climbed to sixth in the West thanks to a new tiebreaker that subtracts shootout wins from total wins to determine placement when teams are even in games.
"We had to answer the bell and get together as a group and realize how important this trip was and we got 15 out of 20 points. We talked about it before the game: 13 out of 20 is good but 15 out of 20 is pretty good. Now we've got to keep building and keep going."
They finished with a flourish — and support from the many Kings fans in the announced sellout crowd of 17,174 at the Honda Center.
"It kind of felt like a home game. There were a lot of L.A. Kings fans out there," said right wing Justin Williams, whose backhand pass set up defenseman Willie Mitchell's decisive slap shot from the left circle at 6:45 of the third period. "When we scored it was kind of nice to hear."
Not so nice for the Ducks, though this was an immense improvement over their recent performances. They had yielded 21 goals in losing their previous three games and were more disciplined Wednesday, giving the Kings no power plays and only 18 shots on Curtis McElhinney.
But McElhinney, trying to keep his job with newly recalled Ray Emery on the bench as his backup, gave up two rebounds the Kings turned into goals. For the Ducks, whose offense was depleted by the absence of centers Saku Koivu (sore groin) and Ryan Getzlaf, who stayed with his wife following the birth of their son Wednesday afternoon, two mistakes proved too many.
"Other teams are finding ways to get points every night and we've lost four in a row and find ourselves on the outside looking in," forward Bobby Ryan said after the Ducks dropped to 11th in the West.
The Kings scored first, at 12:13 of the first period, when Ryan Smyth batted the rebound of a Jack Johnson shot out of mid-air. Continuing their puzzling habit, the Kings gave up a goal soon after they'd scored when Toni Lydman's shot through a screen was deflected past Jonathan Quick by Teemu Selanne at 13:32 for his 626th career goal, moving him up to 14th on the NHL's career goal-scoring list.
The Kings regained the lead at 17:09 after Williams carried the puck up the right side and took a shot that struck McElhinney in the chest. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky fell and couldn't clear the rebound, which was poked in by Anze Kopitar.
The Ducks pulled even at 10:05 of the second period when Corey Perry deflected Luca Sbisa's point shot, and that was it until Williams found the light-scoring Mitchell, who had scored his only other goal this season Oct. 28.
"They were kind of changing a little bit so I kind of posted up a little bit," Williams said. "I didn't quite know what to do with the puck. I hung onto it for a little bit and Willie came in back and he fired a great shot."
Selanne said the Ducks deserved better. "Very disappointing. I think we played good enough to win the game," he said. "A lot of good things but obviously very frustrating right now."
The Kings return home Thursday for the first time since Jan. 26 with at least a tentative hold on a playoff spot, a lot of good memories and a lot of points.
"We've got to get enough distance between us that we can have a little breathing room and we can keep pushing forward, keep pushing for the division and up the standings," Williams said. "It was a big win. A huge one for us."