If the Kings make up enough ground and climb into a playoff spot over the course of their 18 remaining regular-season games, they might look back at their 4-3 shootout victory over Montreal on Thursday as the moment they kept their hopes alive with another display of the resilience that has become their trademark.
After the Kings had squandered a 2-0 lead, Marian Gaborik tied the score during a six-on-four power play with 45 seconds left in the third period, using Jeff Carter as a screen to carry the puck through the slot and tuck it past the leg of goaltender Dustin Tokarski. Gaborik, Carter, and Anze Kopitar scored in the four-round shootout to improve the team's record to 2-7 in the tiebreaking procedure this season and its shooting to a still-puzzlingly weak five for 32.
Kopitar became the first player other than Gaborik and Carter to succeed in a shootout, also baffling.
“Everybody was confident we could do it,”
Gaborik said in a postgame interview shown on the Staples Center video screen. “It was a great performance by every individual.”
The Kings had dominated the first period with their size and the skill of their top two lines, holding Montreal without a shot for more than 10 minutes. But the Kings lost their verve while the Canadiens scored twice on Quick in the second period and once in the third.
“We let them get back in the game,” center Jarret Stoll said. “It was 2-0 and we had some chances to make it 3-0 and they found their legs in the second. Any time it's 2-0 and you give up a goal, it gives that team life. We know that. It gives them extra energy, extra jump, and they got two quick goals to tie it up.
“It's just a big two points to be able to come back and tie it late, to finally win a shootout. To finally score in a shootout.”
The victory was essential to the Kings' playoff hopes because Calgary and Minnesota, two of the teams they're chasing, both won on Thursday. The Kings remain ninth in the West.
The Kings outshot the Canadiens, 13-2, in the opening period and emerged with a 2-0 lead. Gaborik scored the first goal on a play that required considerable skill. The Kings were on the power play when Jake Muzzin passed the puck across to Brayden McNabb, whose long shot bounced several times. Gaborik had his back to the net but was able to redirect the puck past Tokarski at 4:02.
Carter padded the lead to 2-0 with his fourth goal in three games. It was set up by Dustin Brown, who found Carter in front and behind the Montreal defense.
“We should have been up 3- or 4-0,” Coach Darryl Sutter said. “We didn't put it away when we had glorious opportunities to do it in the second period.”
The Canadiens, who lost at Anaheim on Wednesday, found the energy to score twice in the second period. Defenseman Tom Gilbert, not known as a finesse player, made a smart play after Montreal won a faceoff in the Kings' zone. He carried the puck up the left side, cut through the crease and tucked the puck past Quick's leg and inside the right post at 15:15. Just 94 seconds later, Brendan Gallagher tied it with a backhander from close range.
Winger Max Pacioretty gave Montreal the lead at 7:12 of the third period, getting behind the Kings' disorganized defense and taking a pass from David Desharnais that he quickly turned into his 31st goal.
“We had a good start, we were all over them in the first half of the game, and then we let it get away from us a little bit,” Gaborik said. “It was a battle for 65-plus minutes, and the shootout was the difference.”
And in a positive way, for once.
The Kings saved the best for last, as they've done twice in the past three seasons in claiming the Cup. It's a long way from here to there, but their victory Thursday meant they still have a better than reasonable chance to get back to the playoffs and do it again.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen