Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick begins to celebrate after stopping the… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Let's just get ahead of ourselves, shall we?
Los Angeles versus St. Louis would represent a highly entertaining first-round playoff series, and Thursday's regular-season game featuring high shootout drama between the Kings and Blues at Staples Center offered an intriguing potential glimpse into the future.
Playoff scenarios shift almost by the minute these days, and this night in the Western Conference was no different.
The Kings started the morning in eighth place and skyrocketed to third in the West -- by virtue of taking the lead in the Pacific Division, which means possession of the third-seeded spot.
They have miles to skate -- well, eight games -- before they secure a spot, but the Kings took a massive stride forward with their 1-0 shootout win against the Blues, needing four rounds to finish it off.
Scoring for the Kings in the shootout were Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and goalie Jonathan Quick stopped the Blues' Chris Stewart in the fourth round.
It was Quick's eighth shutout of the season and the victory was the Kings' season-high sixth in a row. To even get to the shootout, the Kings had to kill off a penalty in overtime when Justin Williams went off for tripping.
"We didn't have the start we wanted, but we bounced back in the second period and controlled the game for the most part," the Kings' Anze Kopitar said. "Our penalty kill has been good all season and it's come up big in the key moments."
An understatement, to be sure.
Despite a slow start by the Kings, the contest picked up momentum, almost by the minute, and looked like a playoff preview.
There was hard hitting, periods of poised puck possession and stellar goaltending by Quick and his Blues counterpart Brian Elliott.
Elliott, who entered the game with a league-leading 1.62 goals-against average, faced 37 shots. Quick made 35 saves and perhaps his biggest one in the third period came when he robbed Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner. Quick, on his back, reached up and made a terrific glove save with Langenbrunner trying to finish off a two-on-one.
The Blues were in a back-to-back situation, having lost 4-3 at Anaheim, and were down one defenseman for a sizable portion of the game after Carlo Colaiacovo suffered a lower-body injury late in the second period and did not return.
He suffered the injury in a collision with the Kings' Dustin Brown and went back-first into the post, also receiving an interference penalty on the play.
The Kings' Dustin Penner spoke about the fine line between success and failure in this particularly close playoff race.
"The way the league is set up, with parity and the three-point games, it's so system-oriented now," he said. "It's a game of mistakes. Every mistake is magnified, especially this time of year."
Said Carter: "Obviously, you're going to go up against a team like St. Louis and they don't give you too much, so you have to bear down on your chances, but I guess we're getting hot at the right time."
So did the Kings just wait until March to turn it on?
"Not on purpose," Penner said.