Drew Doughty scores a power-play goal for the Kings in a night L.A. scored… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
No one had to tell the Kings they were struggling on the power play.
With only two goals through the early part of the playoffs, production had slipped from the regular season and the team was searching for answers.
Mike Richards figured that he and his teammates got too fancy, trying to pass too much. Rookie Tyler Toffoli said: "We just weren't getting a lot of luck."
All of that changed Thursday night when special teams came to the rescue, accounting for three goals — including two in the last 1:43 — for the Kings' improbable 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.
The victory ranked as an instant classic, one of the most memorable nights in franchise history.
"It was huge," said Trevor Lewis, who scored the game-winner. "Power play got it done in the end when we needed it most."
The one-goal deficit the Kings overcame does not compare with comebacks such as the "Miracle on Manchester" or the "Frenzy on Figueroa." But the stakes were high, the defending Stanley Cup champions fighting to protect home-ice advantage in the Western Conference semifinals.
And the power play — especially with the final two goals — typified what teams need to do with an advantage.
The comeback began when the Sharks, leading 3-2, committed two costly errors. Defenseman Brad Stuart got whistled for tripping. Then defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was sent off for flipping the puck over the glass in his own zone, bringing a delay-of-game penalty.
The second call was controversial. The Sharks believed the puck ticked off a Kings player, which should have negated a penalty. The officials did not agree, so the Kings had a five-on-three advantage.
"We've been talking about it," Coach Darryl Sutter said of the power play. "We've been getting good looks and good opportunities and not finishing."
The first goal was all about movement and traffic. Drew Doughty reached up to stop a loose puck from skipping out of the offensive zone, then swung a pass wide to Richards.
Drifting toward the slot, Richards could see a crowd forming in front of the San Jose goal, teammates Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown establishing position against a lone defenseman.
"Some good movement opened up the shot lanes," said Kings assistant Davis Payne.
Richards fired a shot and, when the puck bounced off goalie Antti Niemi, Brown was in position to poke it in.
"Playoff time," Payne said. "It's all about battling in front."
The Staples Center crowd erupted, but on the Kings bench the players kept their celebration short. They had scored quickly and still held a man advantage. As Payne said: "We knew we had time."
They needed only 22 seconds to take the lead.
The game-winner was a different sort of goal, requiring different skills. It began when defenseman Jake Muzzin gained control of the puck in the defensive zone and whipped a pass across ice to a rushing Toffoli.
San Jose's Stuart, back on the ice, had decent position but Toffoli put on a burst and drove deep into the offensive zone.
"I was lucky because he kind of lost his balance," Toffoli said. "I brought the puck to the net."
Lewis, racing down the left side, had a good idea what might happen next.
"I knew he was going to shoot it," he said of Toffoli. "But I didn't know if he was going to shoot to score or shoot for the rebound."
Over the last few seasons, it has been easy for Lewis to get lost in the mix. He doesn't have the statistics to rank with better-known teammates such as Brown and Anze Kopitar. And he isn't much of a talker with the media.
"He's a detail guy," Payne said. "He's got all the elements of skill and speed and skating, and he thinks the game real well. He puts detail into each play and part of that detail is getting to the right spot."
Losing sight of Toffoli, Lewis kept hustling, beating San Jose center Joe Pavelski to the far post. When Toffoli's shot caromed off Niemi's pad, Lewis was in position to score with 1:21 left.
"My stick was there," he said. "I just sort of tapped it in."
It was an effort play from a guy who prides himself on bringing energy, and it put all the pressure on the Sharks as the series resumes in San Jose on Saturday.
"We thought we deserved a better fate," said Sharks center Joe Thornton. "But that's playoff hockey. They did their job."
If anything, hustle was a common denominator on both late goals. Little things made the difference, the Kings turning their power play around just in time.
"Two minutes left and we're down by one," Brown said. "It's about capitalizing."