Kings end long homestand with win over Sabres, 4-3

Every game has been big for the Kings the last month, and every game the rest of the season will test a young team that’s still learning how to navigate the physical and emotional tides of a grueling 82-game schedule.

But the Kings felt they had even more than usual at stake on Thursday at Staples Center. They needed a win to feel better about themselves after being thrashed by the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, they needed the two points to stay in the top eight in the West, and they desperately wanted to end an often-rocky homestand on a positive note.

The Buffalo Sabres didn’t make it easy on them. The Kings didn’t make it easy on themselves, taking some needless penalties and again whiffing on the power play.

But at the end, the Kings prevailed via shootout, 4-3, after Dustin Brown bested his soon-to-be U.S. Olympic teammate Ryan Miller in the third round of the tiebreaker and Jonathan Quick -- projected to be Team USA’s third goalie -- stopped Buffalo’s Tim Connolly on a twisting save on which he ended up with his back to the ice.

That allowed the Kings to end this homestand 3-4 and move up to seventh place in the tightly bunched West, one point ahead of their next opponent -- the Detroit Red Wings.

“It is huge. The biggest thing is just rebounding after that game against San Jose,” Quick said, referring to the Kings’ 5-1 loss to the Sharks on Tuesday. “We worked hard front to back. It was a hard-fought game against a very good team.”

Miller entered the game with a league-leading 1.99 goals-against average, but the Kings got to him once in each period. They had a goal disallowed in the second period because Oscar Moller punched the puck into the net, but they came back to score an unquestionably legal goal at 19:05 of the second period when Sean O’Donnell used Michal Handzus as a screen for a 60-foot slap shot.

The Sabres surged ahead at 1:07 of the third on a nice pass from Jason Pominville to defenseman Craig Rivet, but the Kings pulled even at 9:03 on a shot by Jarret Stoll that deflected off a Buffalo player and off Ryan Smyth’s foot before eluding Miller.

The goal was reviewed and was allowed to stand -- and it stood as an example of the in-the-trenches work the Kings did all night.

“It’s a nice step for us after going through a little bit of a difficult time here,” Kings Coach Terry Murray said, “and I think heading out on the road now we can draw on this experience here today. We can dig in and play well, and deal with the adversities that are in the game.”

Their goals weren’t the breathtaking, tic-tac-toe kinds of plays, but style points aren’t the objective here.

“We had to battle from behind, but I think we played not only hard, but played with our heads,” Brown said.

“We played within our system, and when we do that we can play with anybody in the league, as long as we are playing within our system and we have everyone on board. It was not any individual. We had goals from three different lines, and that is what we need here: everybody on board and working hard, and when we have that we get a good result.”

Brad Richardson’s first goal in nine games was the only goal of the opening period. Anze Kopitar won a faceoff from Derek Roy and drew the puck back toward the blue line, Wayne Simmonds stepped in to control it and then slid it back to defenseman Drew Doughty, who wound up for a big shot. Richardson, in the slot with two defenders near him, managed to redirect the shot past Miller at 12:28 for his sixth goal this season.

Buffalo tied it 22 seconds into the second period when a pass by Clarke MacArthur deflected into the net off O’Donnell’s stick and took a 2-1 lead at 9:47 of the second period.

Brandon Segal took a needless boarding penalty in front of Buffalo’s bench and the Sabres capitalized when Connolly flicked the puck in front for Thomas Vanek to redirect it past Quick.

The Kings rebounded nicely from that and took a good team to the shootout, improving their shootout record to 7-3 this season. Murray professed to hate the tiebreaking procedure even though his team has won so many lately. He didn’t hate the result. One big game down, 32 to go.