After the smothering defense and one-goal games the Kings battled through during their first-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, holding a two-goal lead over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night had to feel as liberating as a skate in the park.
Almost too liberating.
Unaccustomed to that luxury, the Kings sat back and allowed the Sharks to take 16 shots in the third period and 35 overall, saved mainly by the grace and agility of goaltender Jonathan Quick.
BOX SCORE: Kings 2, San Jose 0
The nimble rally-killer of last year's Stanley Cup run unquestionably was back. Cool under siege early and late, he secured the Kings' 2-0 victory at Staples Center in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Sharks, the team's fifth consecutive playoff triumph.
The two-goal lead, their first in this season's playoffs, felt huge to the Kings.
"I think maybe a little bit too much, where we took it for granted almost and sat back too much," said Mike Richards, who set up Slava Voynov for the Kings' first goal, at 19:47 of the first period, and deflected a point shot by Voynov past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi at 12:30 of the second period for that two-goal difference.
"I think we were lazy with the puck. I had a couple turnovers in the third period. That's kind of uncharacteristic of us. Usually we're pretty good in that situation. Maybe we were a little bit too comfortable in the third period, but a win's a win and we have to get ready and correct some things and come back next game with a better effort and, hopefully, the same result."
What they need is a two-goal lead with the one-goal-lead mentality that got them through a tense and bruising series against the Blues.
Both the Kings and Sharks were tentative in the early going Tuesday. The Sharks hadn't played in a week, since they swept the Vancouver Canucks, and the Kings were kind of feeling them out.
By the third period the Sharks had shaken the rust they had accumulated between series and were far better than they had been in the first 40 minutes. But Quick was better still.
He never let the Sharks gain confidence, never gave the screaming fans any sense that the Kings' precious two-goal lead was in danger.
"Tonight you could just tell he was seeing the puck well," Richards said of Quick. "His rebounds were very minimal and when they were, they were right in front of him and he was in good position.
"He made a couple big saves in the first period to keep us in the game and give us an opportunity to find our legs and get our style of game going, which gives us success. Obviously he was probably the biggest part of this one."
Quick, as usual, was almost unemotional, speaking in a low-pitched monotone as he stood by his locker.
"We wanted to get off on the right foot," he said after his franchise-record sixth career playoff shutout. "But we've got some work to do."
Learning to protect a two-goal lead might be on that agenda, though the Kings can be excused for not having been familiar with it.
They lived on the edge in the first round, jousting and battling for every inch of ice and never leading the Blues by more than one goal. All six games were decided by a single goal, nerve-wracking contests played with high skill levels and elevated emotions, a series the Kings steered in their direction starting with Game 3.
On Tuesday, in the unaccustomed position of having home-ice advantage — the first time any Kings team can say that since 1992, when home was the Forum — the Kings staked out a lead and clung to it.
Besides a five-game postseason winning streak, they will take an 11-game home winning streak into Game 2 on Thursday at Staples Center.
"Regardless of what the score is, I think this time of year our mentality as a team is preventing any goals," Dustin Brown said.
Add to that a need to play like any lead is merely one goal, and not heap everything on Quick's shoulders.