The Kings had a lot going against them Tuesday. They were completing a rare back-to-back sequence at home, they were so disjointed and sloppy in front of starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier that Coach Darryl Sutter felt compelled to switch to Jonathan Quick in the second period, and they lost nearly every important puck battle for the first 40 minutes.
When all signs pointed to a deflating loss, they found the energy to rally, scoring four times in the third period to wrest a 6-4 victory from the St. Louis Blues before an emotionally spent crowd at Staples Center.
Jeff Carter's laser from the left side put them ahead at 6:09 of the third and became his league-leading sixth game-winner and 11th goal in his last 11 games, but it didn't seem to impress Sutter.
“I bet I did it in midget or something like that,” he joked.
The Kings have moved up to fourth in the congested Western Conference standings after winning seven of their last eight games, nine of 11 and their last six at home. That's impressive by any measure.
“Every good team tries to establish an identity, on home ice especially,” said center Anze Kopitar, who scored the final goal against St. Louis replacement goalie Brian Elliott after Justin Williams forced a turnover in St. Louis' zone.
“I think overall with our identity we've done a pretty good job with what we're all about,” said Kopitar, one of five Kings to record a multi-point performance. “We've shown that on the road too. We definitely want to be a hard team to play against on home ice and I think we're doing a pretty good job right now.”
In their last two games, against Nashville and
St. Louis, they've had a combined 8-1 scoring edge in the third period. They trailed, 4-1, after Chris Stewart lifted a shot past Quick at 6:31 of the second period but got one back before the period ended, when Kopitar set up defenseman Slava Voynov and then screened goalie Jaroslav Halak.
There was no frustration, no panic at any point. “We have a confident group in here, a calm group,” defenseman Jake Muzzin said, and they were nothing but optimistic as they went to the locker room for the second intermission.
“A two-goal game, you get one early, that's what we were thinking,” Kopitar said. “You get one early, we'll scrap another one. We didn't think we'd get four. It worked out for us.”
That it did, with Mike Richards converting his own rebound to bring them within a goal at 1:33 of the third period and Muzzin tying it at 2:32 with a shot he simply threw at the net and hoped for the best.
“Just great team plays. We're getting pucks to the net,” said Muzzin, who also scored the Kings' first goal and established a career-high with three points.
“I caught him cheating, I guess, looking for a pass across. It went under his pad. It was great plays by everyone and a great team win.”
A win seemed unlikely based on their early performance. After a fight-filled start, the Blues scored at 15:09 of the first period. Chris Stewart dug the puck out of the corner and passed it to Alex Pietrangelo, who tried to center it. Instead, the puck glanced off the left skate of Voynov and into the net.
The Kings pulled even 43 seconds later. Drew Doughty passed the puck to defense partner Muzzin, who shot from just above the left circle. The puck bounced before it got past Halak.
After another fight, this one between Dwight King and Ryan Reaves, the Blues took the lead on a deflection by Vladimir Sobotka at 18:50. The Blues struck early in the second period, on David Perron's perfect redirection of a shot by Pietrangelo at 1:14, leading Sutter to replace Bernier with Quick. He didn't have much better luck, as Stewart scored on a backhander at 6:31.
But Voynov's goal gave the Kings life and launched them to an improbable comeback. “We said in here, ‘Maybe they're waiting for us to come out at them.' And that's what we did,” Muzzin said.
It wasn't quite as simple as that, but it worked. For now, that's all that matters.