It occurred to Drew Doughty soon after he slammed himself against the glass to exult over the decisive goal in a 3-2 victory for the Kings over Columbus on Wednesday that maybe he hadn't beaten the clock, and that he'd have a red face when the puck was dropped for overtime at Staples Center.
"I didn't know how much time was left. I was sneaking in there and I knew there wasn't a lot of time," Doughty said of the frantic scramble during a power play in the Blue Jackets' zone.
"I didn't hear the buzzer, so I assumed it was a goal and after we celebrated the goal I was skating back and realized there wasn't a lot of time left. So I was scared that it didn't count."
He need not have worried. His 20-foot shot was reviewed and ruled to have come with 0.4 of a second left, the sixth time the Kings have won so close to the buzzer and first since a goal by Jozef Stumpel with three-tenths of a second left on Feb. 11, 1999.
The 30th-ranked Blue Jackets claimed the goal should not have counted because, they said, the clock stopped at 1.8 seconds and started again.
The victory gave the Kings a successful start to what they consider a "new" season following the All-Star break, though their performance was hardly artistic. "We were average," said Darryl Sutter, who is 10-2-6 since taking over as coach.
But they saw improvement in key aspects that will be important for a team that has struggled to score all season, and they hope to build on that during a six-game trip that begins with a back-to-back sequence Friday at St. Louis and Saturday at Carolina.
Their power play, sporadic lately, converted two of three attempts. And their penalty killing, which had slipped lately after being a huge strength, neutralized all three Columbus advantages, including one midway through the third period with the score 2-2.
"We didn't play well in a lot of areas. We came out strong in the first period and didn't play well in the second or third," Doughty said. "But our special teams were great. We've got to carry that through to the road trip."
The Kings scored the only goal of the first period, when winger Justin Williams took a pass from Doughty and moved deep on the left side before ripping a wrist shot past Curtis Sanford. Williams has points in nine straight games, with four goals and 11 points in that span.
Columbus pulled even early in the second period. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made a good first save on a backhander by Vinny Prospal but wasn't able to deal with the rebound. Derick Brassard tapped it to Derek Dorsett, who flicked the puck over a diving Doughty, who dislodged the net but after the puck had crossed the goal line.
Dustin Penner took advantage of a poor decision by Columbus forward R.J. Umberger to force a turnover and give the Kings a 2-1 lead. Umberger was carrying the puck on the left side and was near the blue line when Penner poked the puck away from him and skated in alone on the right side. Penner was about 35 feet out when he snapped a shot inside the right post at 14:32, only his fourth goal of the season.
The Blue Jackets pulled even at 4:42 of the third. Quick stopped a long shot by defenseman John Moore but left a long rebound. Antoine Vermette controlled the puck and passed across to Colton Gillies, who had eluded Doughty and had no trouble rifling a shot past Quick for his first goal this season.
But the Kings seized the moment after Sammy Pahlsson was sent off for holding Williams at 18:54. They pressured Columbus until Doughty saved them before the buzzer.
"We've got 31 games left and every one just gets more and more important," he said. "So every game we need to get the two points and that's all we're focused on doing."