WASHINGTON — Every sign pointed to the Kings losing to the Capitals on Tuesday, and they could have trotted out the cliched but reasonable excuse of lacking energy at the end of a back-to-back sequence on the road, against a team desperate to make the playoffs.
They didn't settle for a respectable defeat.
If the Kings go far in the playoffs — and their 5-4 shootout victory made that seem distinctly possible — it will be because they've shown they're capable of blending poise, determination and scoring into a potent mix.
BOX SCORE: Kings 5, Washington 4 (SO)
The skills contest decided it at the lively Verizon Center. Anze Kopitar, on a backhand between Jaroslav Halak's pads, and Jeff Carter, on a wrist shot, scored for the Kings in the tiebreaker; Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov missed and Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick — playing both ends of the back-to-back set — stopped Eric Fehr.
But the seeds for the comeback were planted when the Kings, despite yielding a pair of power-play goals by Alexander Ovechkin in the first period, relied on resilience instead of excuses.
"It was crazy. It was a good character win," defenseman Drew Doughty said after the Kings recorded their seventh straight road win and fourth straight overall, including a 3-2 decision Monday at Philadelphia.
"The boys stuck together, stuck with it. We knew the whole time we were going to get back in that game. That was our entire mind-set, just to continue to bang at it and take over that third period and get back in it."
The Kings had cut Washington's lead to 2-1 on Mike Richards' power-play rebound at 2:53 of the second period, but former King Dustin Penner rebuilt Washington's two-goal cushion with his first goal as a Capital, pouncing on a misplay by Alec Martinez and beating Quick at 17:18 of the second period.
That could have been the end for the Kings. It turned out to be the beginning.
"There was no panic. You just keep playing," center Jarret Stoll said. "We know if we play our best, we think it's better than their best. That's what we all think in here and we just stuck with it and were very patient."
Dwight King converted the rebound of a Dustin Brown shot 45 seconds into the third period to narrow Washington's lead to 3-2. Marian Gaborik brought the Kings even at 8:41 with a nasty shot from the left circle, set up by Jake Muzzin and a sweet feed from Tyler Toffoli.
"I've certainly seen that before, happen against us," Kopitar said of Gaborik's sharpshooting. "But it's nice to have him with us now."
There's an understatement.
"That's exactly why we got him," Stoll said cheerfully.
Brown, playing one of his strongest games in a while, gave the Kings a 4-3 lead at 12:55, after Stoll had picked up a Washington turnover. The Kings thought they should have been awarded a goal when Richards was impeded by John Carlson on a breakaway with the Washington net empty, but the only call was a hooking penalty on Carlson.
That proved crucial when the Capitals, playing short-handed and with Halak replaced by an extra skater, tied it at 19:18 when Kuznetsov tapped in a puck that had squirted through Quick's pads.
"We should have won it in regulation. Had just a couple of minor breakdowns on that last goal, but whatever," said Doughty, who took Washington's Nicklas Backstrom out of action with a hard but clean hit early in the second period that left the Swedish center with an upper-body injury. "We won in a shootout anyway."
That they did, moving them closer to clinching a playoff spot.
"We were not as sharp as we'd like to be early. Took a couple of penalties. We know their power play and they scored on 'em," Coach Darryl Sutter said. "We just kind of hung in there."
That qualifies as high praise from him. But it was deserved after his team gutted out wins in hostile Philadelphia and in rarely visited Washington.
"Lots of guys haven't played in these buildings yet, so it's interesting to see," Sutter said. "This building has a lot of energy too. It's a good building to come into. Hopefully our guys can continue like that."