So now it appears Anze Kopitar is merely competing with himself.
Kopitar, who had a statement game just two days ago, scored twice in the Kings' 4-3 overtime victory Thursday over the New York Rangers at Staples Center.
It was the Kings' league-leading 11th overtime victory this season, and Kopitar scored his 23rd and 24th goals of the season. The overtime winner came at 1:34 on a deflection from between the circles as he screened Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The Kings had rallied from a 3-1 third-period deficit to force overtime on goals by Kyle Clifford and Kopitar. Kopitar's game-tying goal with 4:10 remaining in regulation survived a coach's challenge. The other Kings goal, scored in the first period, came from Dustin Brown, who has had goals in three straight games.
The backdrop: First place had been up for grabs on Thursday night.
Not the lead in the division — a big topic of discussion around here ever since the Ducks passed the Kings, briefly, and the Kings retook the top spot in the Pacific.
Instead, it was all about the No. 1 slot in the Western Conference. A combination of a Dallas Stars loss and a Kings victory would have pushed the Kings into the lead. But Dallas won earlier in the night, beating Tampa Bay.
"We knew right off the get-go it was going to be a hard-fought game and it just proved to be a playoff type game," Kopitar said. "It was very tight on the ice and very nice for us to come back like that."
On the tying goal, Kopitar redirected Milan Lucic's shot, but the Rangers' challenge was about the traffic and jostling in front of Lundqvist. After deliberation and multiple views, the call of a good goal on the ice stood, that there was no goalie interference.
Lundqvist was unhappy with the turn of events on the tying goal.
"I'm so frustrated right now," he said. "I don't know where to begin with this. The way we battled all game. I think you've just got to play by the rules. The rule is you can't have a guy [the Kings' Tyler Toffoli] in the crease.... and he doesn't make any effort to get out."
Of the overtime goal, Kopitar said: "I was just trying to win the faceoff and I guess I saw a little bit of room going to the net. And then I was just trying to get a stick on it. Fortunate for me, it went in."
It is setting up as a compelling final 31/2 weeks for the battle for No. 1 in the Western Conference. Every point is magnified at this stage and the two points the Kings grabbed Thursday were highly significant.
"We came into this season, really focused on having a better regular season," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty last week. "We've been a team that left it too late — until the last 20 games — and then had to battle to get into a playoff spot. We kind of thought no matter where we were, even the eighth seed, we could do damage in the playoffs.
"We realized we can't do that anymore — and how big an advantage home-ice advantage is in the playoffs. We wanted to make sure we were better in the regular season."
The Rangers, having played and won at Anaheim on Wednesday, fought off road weariness and came on with a determined push to start the third to build their lead, going up, 3-1, at 2:46, as a shot by Rangers winger Kevin Hayes went off Kings defenseman Luke Schenn and goalie Jonathan Quick. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter registered a challenge but the NHL's situation upheld the call on the ice and ruled there was no goalie interference.