In a season made difficult by the Kings’ underperforming offense, Jeff Carter has stood out as their lone reliable scorer, toting a load made unreasonably heavy by his teammates’ scoring foibles.
In a season threatened from the start by goaltender Jonathan Quick’s long-term groin injury, third-string goalie Peter Budaj has had to tote a similarly heavy load. Like Carter, Budaj performed his job with grace Tuesday in a game that generated enough heat to warm a cold, rainy night in the Bay Area and tightened the Pacific Division standings.
Carter scored the tying goal against the San Jose Sharks in the second period at SAP Center and set up Tanner Pearson’s two-on-one goal 58 seconds into overtime, while Budaj, the chest of his white jersey blackened with marks of the pucks he stubbornly stopped in a busy third period, made 26 saves as the Kings rallied to beat their division rivals, 2-1, and sweep a home-and-home sequence that began on New Year’s Eve.
Budaj faced only 13 shots in the first two periods but faced that many in the third and one more in overtime for the Kings (19-15-4). “It was a great team win. This is a very tough building to win [in] and they have a very good team,” he said. “We have always great games against each other. Just a great team win.”
The seeds were planted last week, when the Kings lost the last three games of a stretch in which they played nine straight games on the road. They had to stop that slide from becoming a full-fledged slump or risk falling behind in their effort to be among — or close to — the top teams in the West.
“We’ve been talking about these two games since we got out of Edmonton,” defenseman Drew Doughty said, referring to the finale of that nine-game road odyssey. “We were looking forward to them. We were looking forward to the challenge and we love playing against these guys. It’s a great rivalry and it was great to beat them both times.”
They couldn’t have done it without Carter, who reached the 20-goal mark for the 12th time in his career when he scored the winner in the Kings’ 3-2 New Year’s Eve triumph over the Sharks. He made it 21 in the third period Tuesday with a clever redirection of a shot/pass by defenseman Jake Muzzin, moving into second place among NHL goal scorers behind only the 26 scored by Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
“He’s doing everything well. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t say that,” Coach Darryl Sutter said of Carter, using a double-negative to construct a positive comment. “He’s on fire, and obviously, we needed it.”
As usual, Carter preferred to remain a man of many goals and few words. “It’s been good,” he said. “Just getting lucky.”
The Kings were happily slapping each other on the back Tuesday after Pearson took a pass from Carter on an odd-man rush and flicked a shot past former King Martin Jones for his 10th goal this season, second on the team to Carter.
The Kings knew they’d have trouble making up for the goals they lost when Milan Lucic (20 goals last season) departed as a free agent, but they couldn’t have expected that Anze Kopitar would be stuck on three goals as the season neared the midpoint. The absence of Tyler Toffoli, out six games because of a lower-body injury, also depletes their already modest offense. Carter has saved them repeatedly.
“He’s been doing a great job,” Doughty said. “Obviously, we’d like to get some more offense from some of our guys but as long as we’re winning hockey games we’re all happy in here.”
Logan Couture scored the game’s first goal at 11:56 of the second period on a shot from the left circle that trickled in off Budaj’s arm. The Kings believed they had tied it at 14:53 of the period but it was disallowed after a video review determined that Marian Gaborik had batted the puck past Jones with his left hand, which is illegal.
The Kings got an indisputable goal at 3:03 of the third period, on their third power play of the game. Muzzin’s initial fake drew in a defender, giving him space and time to make a half-pass, half-shot toward the net that Carter deftly redirected past Jones. That set the stage for Pearson’s dramatic overtime winner.
“It was fun. That was a good game,” Doughty said. “I thought both teams played pretty good. I thought we were probably the more dominant team in the first period and a half and they kind of brought it out to us in the later half, but to get two points, we’re pretty happy with that.