The Stanley Cup rings fans received Monday night at Staples Center were replicas of the real thing. The Kings' comeback against the Vancouver Canucks was genuine — and reminiscent of the performances during their unlikely Cup drive last spring.
Jeff Carter lifted a backhander past goaltender Roberto Luongo for the only goal in the shootout, propelling the Kings to a 3-2 victory over the Canucks before an emotionally spent crowd. The triumph was the second this season for the Kings (2-2-1) and continued their dominance of the Canucks, whom they upset in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
“I think we're starting to understand that it's going to be a battle every night,” winger Simon Gagne said. “We're the Stanley Cup champions and every team is going to play its best game against us. It's going to be a battle right to the end for us.”
Kings defenseman Slava Voynov tied the score when his shot from the blue line snaked through a forest of bodies with 43.2 seconds left in the third period and goaltender Jonathan Quick replaced by an extra skater. It was the first time the Kings had scored with the goalie pulled since Nov. 10, 2011, also against Vancouver.
“You play resilient,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “You've got to win games like that.”
Quick was perfect in the shootout, stopping Alex Burrows, Alex Edler and Zach Kassian. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown were stopped by Luongo before Carter succeeded, giving the Kings their first consecutive wins this season. They had defeated the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday.
“It was an intense game and the crowd was into it,” Kopitar said. “We've beaten two playoff teams and we need to build some momentum now.”
The Kings also produced their first power-play goal this season after 25 fruitless attempts. Carter scored it at 15:21 of the second period, extending his goal-scoring streak to three games.
Luongo, the subject of continuing trade rumors since he was replaced by Cory Schneider during the Canucks' playoff elimination at the hands of the Kings, was sharp Monday. His best stop was a spectacular right-arm save at 11:04 of the first period on Jarret Stoll to keep the game scoreless. That proved crucial when the Canucks scored just over two minutes later. Henrik Sedin won a faceoff in the Kings' zone and slid the puck back to the blue line. Dan Hamhuis passed to Edler, whose shot bounced in front and left a rebound. Kassian pounced on it for his fourth goal this season.
Early in the second Luongo again denied the Kings on a good scoring chance and was rewarded when his teammates padded their lead to 2-0.
Luongo made a deft juggling save on a backhander by Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin barely two minutes into the period and soon after, Burrows caught an indecisive Quick leaning the wrong way and tucked the puck inside the right post. Quick might have thought Chris Higgins, who was in the left-wing corner, would take the puck to the net, but Higgins instead slid the puck to Burrows, who darted out from behind the net and toward the right post. Quick couldn't extend his left foot in time to stop Burrows' shot at 4:05.
Carter cut Vancouver's lead to 2-1 with the help of a fortunate bounce. Gagne got the puck to Mike Richards for a shot that was blocked, but the puck caromed to Carter. Luongo got a piece of Carter's shot but not enough. Richards' assist was his first point of the season and Gagne got the second assist, making it an all-ex-Flyers goal.
Sutter again scratched left wing Dustin Penner — the third straight game in which Penner was available but was held out of the lineup — as well as winger Brad Richardson and spare defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk. Defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has been medically cleared to play after knee surgery but has been cautious about his return, didn't skate with his teammates Monday. That's the second straight day he skipped practice, and Sutter said it's up to Mitchell to tell the coaches when he's ready to play.
The Kings missed him but again proved that depth of character is as important as depth of talent. They might have started slowly, but they're showing every sign of getting back to their championship form.