The game seemed about to slip out of the Kings’ grasp.
Their penalty killing had been dented a second time midway through the third period Saturday after Wayne Simmonds got a five-minute major and game misconduct for butt-ending Colorado’s T.J. Galiardi. And still they had time to chip off the clock.
But because Brad Richardson and Jarret Stoll created an opportunity and seized it, the Kings left the Pepsi Center with a 6-4 victory over the Avalanche in a strange but exciting game that turned on special-teams play and alert thinking.
Milan Hejduk’s second goal had brought Colorado even, 4-4, at 11 minutes 34 seconds of the third period and goalie Craig Anderson — who had already committed one ghastly puckhandling gaffe — was out of his crease and trying to move the puck up the boards when Stoll read the play. He intercepted the puck and fed it cross-ice to Richardson, who slapped it home from about 40 feet at 13:04.
“I’ve always said the power play can win you a game and the penalty killing can lose you a game, but it ended up tonight the penalty killing was outstanding at a critical time,” said Coach Terry Murray, whose team held the Avalanche to two power-play goals in seven chances over 13:42 with the man advantage.
Richardson, a former member of the Avalanche, completed his first career hat trick at 17:05 on an unassisted goal. Alas, no hats were tossed from the stands from fans who remembered him.
“They must have been sitting up really high and couldn’t get them on the ice,” he said, laughing.
The short-handed goal will stand out for Richardson and for the Kings (5-2).
“We try up-ice pressure as much as we can, so I went at the goalie,” Richardson said of the decisive goal. “Stollie made a great read. He cut off the boards and Anderson was out of the net, so I basically had an empty net to shoot in.
“Our penalty killing has been good all year. It’s tough to kill those off. They got the one, but we showed a lot of character out there.”
Stoll said he and Richardson often talk about pressuring the goalie and where each of them should be.
“I kind of knew where he was and I just tried to put it in an area,” Stoll said. “I put it right on his tape. It was just a reaction play and a little bit of luck too.”
If they had their share of good fortune, they also face the misfortune of losing Simmonds, who incurred an automatic $100 fine for the butt-ending incident and could be suspended by the NHL. He declined to comment about it, but Rule 58.6 of the rule book stipulates that the commissioner can apply supplementary discipline “if deemed appropriate.”
Still, far more good things than bad came out of this game for the Kings.
Twelve players earned at least one point, and defenseman Matt Greene, who underwent surgery on his left shoulder in July, returned to play a steady 21:24 and was +2. Rookie defenseman Jake Muzzin was sent to Manchester of the American Hockey League to open a roster spot.
The Kings also struck twice on the power play after recording only one man-advantage goal in their first six games.
Even-strength goals by the Kings’ Alexei Ponikarovsky — his first with the team and in his 500th NHL game — and Hejduk began the scoring. Power-play goals by Anze Kopitar, off a fine pass from Andrei Loktionov, and Paul Stastny, banked off Jonathan Quick, left the score, 2-2, after the first period.
The Kings took a 4-2 lead on goals by Richardson at even strength and Dustin Brown on the power play, but Stastny, in the second period, and Hejduk on that power play made it 4-4.
Richardson and Stoll then took over.
“Our penalty killers were great. We were all working in sync,” Stoll said. “Those are huge momentum swings.”
Big enough for the Kings to swing to victory.