Dustin Brown finally responds
If Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Teddy Purcell would have vowed to end their lengthy goalscoring droughts in the same game, their teammates would have laughed.
Kopitar hadn’t scored a goal in 13 games. Brown’s drought was 14. Purcell was 0 for 26 games, since the Kings’ third game this season, and he had also been scratched from the lineup twice.
But in the most improbable of circumstances, against the most formidable of foes, each scored a goal Wednesday against the West-leading San Jose Sharks. Brown’s turnaround fling 1 minute 16 seconds into overtime, which he thought had little chance of succeeding compared to what he said were “10 million Grade A scoring chances” he had missed, lifted the Kings to a 5-4 victory at HP Pavilion.
Brown said he and Kopitar had been telling each other, “Stay hot,” poking fun at their futility. “Finally, maybe we don’t have to say it to each other,” Brown said after the Kings (19-10-3) moved within three points of the Pacific Division-leading Sharks (19-7-6).
Kopitar acknowledged he was relieved and added, “I’m sure for Brownie and Teddy a couple of monkeys jumped” off their backs.
Only a couple?
“We let the whole zoo out,” Purcell said.
And in earning points in the standings for the sixth game in a row, they let the Sharks and the rest of the NHL know they’re intent on remaining a force.
Although they gave up a lead in the third period, they improved to 13-0-0 in games they’ve led after two periods. Erik Ersberg won his first start since Nov. 11, though he yielded a soft third goal and the tying goal to Manny Malhotra at 12:19 of the third period.
“It always helps when we score five, I’ve got to admit that,” he said, cheerfully.
The Kings scored twice against a penalty-killing unit that had a 94% success rate at home and a league-best 87% success rate overall. Drew Doughty scored a goal and set up Kopitar’s power-play tip-in at 5:43 with a feed so good that even an ice-cold Kopitar couldn’t miss it.
“You try not to think about it but it’s always there,” the Slovenian center said of his famine. “The net looks smaller. The goalie looks bigger.”
Not as big as this victory looked to the Kings, even though Coach Terry Murray had insisted this wasn’t a measuring-stick game for him and that he judges his team against its own potential and not against its opponents.
“We’re maturing,” Murray said. “We’re starting to bring it together as a better team, a better group of guys.”
Purcell, who retained his power-play role because of Murray’s faith in his hands and playmaking, justified that faith at 6:12 of the first period, using Michal Handzus as a screen to rip a 35-foot shot past Evgeni Nabokov.
The Sharks took a 2-1 lead on goals by Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, the latter on a power play, but the Kings pulled even at 1:32 of the second period when Jarret Stoll redirected a shot by Jack Johnson while the teams were skating four on four.
Kopitar gave the Kings a 3-2 lead at 5:43 of the second period when he converted that great pass from Doughty while at the edge of the crease. And Doughty, off a cross-ice pass from defense partner Rob Scuderi, made it 4-2 at 8:32 when he rifled a shot through a crowd in front.
The Sharks applied pressure late in the second period and cut the Kings’ lead to 4-3 on a goal by Dan Boyle that found an opening between Ersberg’s legs. Malhotra brought the Sharks even at 12:19 with a shot over Ersberg’s glove, after Brown had lost the puck in the neutral zone.
Brown took a needless interference penalty at 14:14 but the Kings survived that. They also survived a scare when Dany Heatley appeared to score the tying goal with 4:23 left in the third but referee Steve Kozari waved it off.
The fans booed that call and were even more displeased when Brown, on a broken play, spun and threw the puck at the net from about 25 feet.
When it eluded Nabokov, it broke a hat trick’s worth of scoring slumps for the Kings.
By any measure, it was a significant achievement for a team that’s collecting those faster than Kopitar, Brown and Purcell are scoring goals.