It was supposed to be the homestand that saved the Kings’ season.
With the playoff race entering the home stretch, they would play seven consecutive games at Staples Center, one against the team they’re chasing and three against teams with losing records.
If the Kings were going to go on a tear, this was where it would start.
Two weeks later, they filed out of Staples Center after going 4-2-1 on the homestand, capped by Thursday’s 2-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
That’s good, but not good enough.
Because what had been a one-point deficit in the Western Conference wild-card race is now a four-point gap — with seven fewer games in which to make it up.
“It’s just about two points, really,” said forward Dustin Brown, who assisted on both goals to give him 501 points for his career. “It’s that time of year. You’ve just got to find ways to grind points away.”
Jarome Iginla, a veteran of 20 NHL seasons, and Adrian Kempe, a veteran of 14 NHL games, accounted for the goals, both in the third period.
“The oldest player on our team scored a goal and the youngest player scored a goal,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter observed.
And that was more than enough support for goalie Jonathan Quick, who made 26 saves for his first shutout of the season and helped the Kings end a two-game slide.
But just as with the homestand, the Kings could have done much better, wasting several chances to put the Sabres away early.
With Buffalo skating backward for most of the first two periods, the Kings put 26 shots on goal. Sabres goalie Robin Lehner was equal to the challenge, though, making a number of difficult saves to keep the game scoreless.
Iginla finally broke the deadlock 36 seconds into the third period. The play started with Brown taking the puck from the neutral zone to the end boards behind the Buffalo net. It then kicked out to Iginla, who skated over the goal line and pushed it toward the goal.
Lehner made the save but the puck eventually found its way to Anze Kopitar, who fed an unguarded Iginla in the low slot for an easy score.
Kempe doubled the lead with a little morethan five minutes to play, flicking in a wrister from the center of the right faceoff circle. Brown’s assists were his first since Feb. 16.
“We’re not a team that’s going to score a lot of goals,” Sutter said. “We’re going to have to grind it out.”
The difference Thursday, Sutter said, was that the Kings shut down Buffalo’s league-leading power play on two man-advantage chances.
But having missed an opportunity to start a playoff push at home, the Kings now must make up ground on the road, where they’ll play six of their final 12 games, beginning with games Sunday and Monday at Calgary and Edmonton, cities where they’re winless this season.
They’ll repeat that trip in reverse order at the end of the month, adding a detour to Vancouver — where they’re also winless — before finishing the season in Anaheim.
“At this time of year,” Brown said, “you’ve got to put these two points in the bank and kind of reset and not get comfortable.”