The defining moment of Dustin Brown’s return might not have been his goal. It actually might have been when he lost his stick.
Stuck in his own end, Brown harassed New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith near the boards and shoved him to the ice. It induced loud cheers at Staples Center from fans who know him as the wrecking-ball soul of the team, and he swung the Kings in the proper direction in his season debut Sunday, a 4-3 win to end a six-game losing streak.
Alec Martinez got the glory with his rush goal with 55 seconds remaining, then delivered hard-hitting praise of Brown, whose captaincy the Kings terminated in 2016.
“His leadership is second to none regardless of some things that happened in the past,” Martinez said. “That wasn’t any of our decision. That’s not how we saw it here in the room. Anytime you see a guy like that step in, coming back from injury and perform the way he did, it speaks to his character and his caliber of a player.”
The Kings also got a lift from Ilya Kovalchuk and his big shot that was finally unleashed on the power play, his first such goal as a King, while goalie Jack Campbell shook off a bad goal and held the Rangers to one goal over the final 32 minutes. Brown got the Kings on the board first with a tap-in of Kovalchuk’s shot, his first goal since April 5.
“It just felt good to be part of a group again,” Brown said. “It felt really good. But [it’s my] first game back and everyone’s 10 games in. [I was] a little tired, but I’ve been through it before.”
Martinez saved the Kings, who took their first lead since Oct.11 at 3-2 on Trevor Lewis’ goal, then succumbed to Ryan Spooner’s score with nearly five minutes remaining.
With overtime looming, Martinez carried the puck through the neutral zone and missed a stickhandle as a defender drew close. But the puck stayed in front of him and he used Smith as a screen to beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
“It was not a move,” Martinez said. “I lost the puck. I got it back. It was all planned out. I just wanted them to think I lost the puck.”
Martinez scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal, against Lundqvist, from the same end of the ice in 2014, but he wasn’t going there.
“That was a long time ago,” Martinez said.
It feels like a century with the way this season has begun. But the Kings channeled some old resiliency after Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo banked a shot off Campbell’s right skate from behind the goal line to give New York a 2-0 lead.
“It’s just a bad goal,” Campbell said. “It’s going to happen. Basically, I was like, ‘The boys were playing amazing. I’ve just got to bounce back.’”
Campbell might be relied on again because of another injury to Jonathan Quick, who “had a great practice and I thought was terrific” on Saturday before he “got checked out and didn’t feel right,” coach John Stevens said.
Quick is listed as day to day with a lower-body injury that is reportedly different from the one that put him on injured reserve earlier.
The Kings still haven’t played a game with a full complement of players. But the player they gained Sunday was balm.