The Kings could have given in to their frustration after seeing shot after shot go just wide and hearing a blistering shot by Marian Gaborik shot clang loudly off the goal post behind Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling in the second period. Instead, something propelled them forward even when they trailed the defending Stanley Cup champions late in the third period Saturday.
It was a remnant of what drove the Kings to win the Cup themselves in 2012 and again in 2014, a calm and certainty that allow the best players to think more clearly and see the game more slowly than ordinary players when then they’re under duress.
It’s what allowed the Kings to rally for an exhilarating 3-2 overtime victory at Staples Center, a triumph that had Milan Lucic chest-bumping teammates while drinking in the roars of a crowd that had seen a terrific exhibition of skill and guts.
“We didn’t panic,” Kings defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said. “We stuck to our game plan and we just kept pushing in the third period.”
First, they got a putback by Jeff Carter in the opening minute. Then Gaborik, whose goals have been few and far between this season, brought them even with five minutes 55 seconds to play in the third period after Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook had overskated the puck and Anze Kopitar pounced on it.
Gaborik capped the breathless, end-to-end three-on-three overtime session with a wrist shot 2:04 into sudden-death play, with Kopitar earning his second assist of the night.
Seeing Carter score was a lift, but the Kings had to keep that momentum going through the rest of the period, and they did. Because they did, they stayed atop the Pacific Division, a point ahead of San Jose.
“It definitely gave us belief, but we said we want to have our best period in the third,” said Ehrhoff, who got the second assist on Carter’s goal. “And we came out good and we stuck to our game plan even though pucks weren’t going in for us early and we got rewarded in the end.”
Gaborik said players maintained confidence that they could come back and start this four-game homestand triumphantly.
“We never quit,” said Gaborik, who now has five goals in 23 games. “We had a lot of chances as the game went on, and toward the end we were pushing ourselves toward the net. We were creating a lot of traffic.
“We had some forechecking pressure in their zone and that was the mood, just keep going, keep going and try to tie it up.”
The Blackhawks had led, 2-0, after two periods on a power-play goal by Patrick Kane in the first period and a long shot by Niklas Hjalmarsson that deflected past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick at 12:56 of the second period. That goal was set up by Kane, who extended his point streak to 19 games, the longest ever by an American-born NHL player.
“Great player,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said.
Essentially, the Kings did to the Blackhawks what the Blackhawks had done to the Ducks on Friday: stage a late rally and win in overtime. “Same exact game, but the opposite way,” Kane said. “We had a 2-0 lead and it seemed like we just wanted to sit back and play it safe. That obviously doesn’t work in this league, so it’s frustrating when that happened.”
The Kings made it happen by relentlessly working and pushing.
“It was definitely a good character win for us, coming from two goals down,” Ehrhoff said. “It’s always nice for the team to get a win like that, and I think everybody at Staples enjoyed that game too.”
Few enjoyed it more than Gaborik, who pumped his fist in joy afterward. Whether this starts a hot streak for him remains to be seen, but for one night, at least, he was his old, dynamic self.
“I just tried to move my legs, get to scoring areas and keep my feet moving,” he said. “I tried to contribute, and it feels good.”