The Kings looked as if they were going to blow the New York Rangers out of the Forum Tuesday night when they exploded for four consecutive goals in the second period to take a 6-3 lead.
They then almost threw away the game but managed to hold on for a 7-5 win in front of 10,648 fans at the Forum.
"We started to panic," said King center Bernie Nicholls, who had two goals and one assist. "We can't be panicking this late in the season.
"When it was 6-3, we shouldn't have let them back into the game. We were fortunate to win, because we had a big second period."
It almost wasn't enough.
With 13:10 left in the third period, New York right wing Tomas Sandstrom scored his 19th goal of the season, beating King goalie Darren Eliot on a slap shot from the circle to close the score to 6-4.
"I struggled all night long," said Eliot, who was making his first start since a 6-3 loss to St. Louis on Jan. 25. "I'm relieved that we won because I kept the Rangers in it."
The Rangers had a power play with 9:52 left after King defenseman Brian Engblom received a two-mintute penalty for covering the puck with his hand.
"In my eyes it was a bad call," Engblom said. "I cupped it and swept it away. I had two guys on my back and I was trying to get it over to Marcel (Dionne). Since I had my back turned to the referee, he thought I had closed my hand on it and thrown it. I was expecting to get a whistle for a hand pass, but not a penalty."
The Rangers scored on the first shot of the power play when defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen got his 16th goal of the season, a slap shot from just in front of the blue line that cut the King lead to 6-5. "We did our traditional King thing and gave them a chance to get back in the game," King Coach Pat Quinn said. "The thing that bothers me is that we have to go on the road to two tough cities (Philadelphia and Washington) and then we play Pittsburgh, which is in a dogfight in its division. If we play like this, we're going to get the tar knocked out of us."
The Rangers pulled goalie Glen Hanlon for an extra skater in the last minute in an attempt to tie the score, but the Kings' captain, Terry Ruskowski, scored an empty-net goal with 39 seconds left. Ruskowski also had two assists.
It was the Kings' fourth win in their last five games. Their record is 23-21-9.
The Rangers, leading, 3-2, looked as if they were going to put the Kings away early in the second period when they had five good scoring chances on Eliot.
Instead, the Rangers came away with nothing.
"They should have had three goals on that one shift," Quinn said . "We got a real lucky break."
But the Rangers couldn't find the net, hitting the post and the crossbar on several shots during the spurt.
"It's very frustrating," said Ranger center Pierre Larouche, who scored his team's first goal. "It's hard to explain what's going on. We were controlling the game, and in 10 minutes the tide turned and they just burried us. All it would have taken was to get the goals we missed when we hit the crossbar in the second period."
Rookie King center Craig Redmond tied the game at 3-3 when he scored his fifth goal of the season, this one off a pass from Marcel Dionne with 7:48 left in the second period.
Nicholls scored his second goal of the game just 54 seconds later to give the Kings a 4-3 lead.
The Kings added two goals in the final 1 1/2 minutes of the period. Defenseman Rick Lapointe scored his third goal of the season with 1:27 left off a pass from Jim Fox, and John Paul Kelly scored with 49 seconds left off a pass from Fox. Fox had four assists.
"We had a stretch there in the second period that cost us the game," Ranger General Manager/Coach Craig Patrick said. The Rangers are 2-5 since Patrick fired Coach Herb Brooks last month and took over behind the bench last month.
It was the fourth straight loss for the injury-plagued Rangers (17-27-8), who have had 40 different injuries to 23 players.