It was shaping up as a lost weekend for the Kings, down a goal with seconds remaining in Sunday’s game against their nearest pursuers in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks.
But then the Kings conjured up a little bit of 11th-hour magic, Vinny Lecavalier tying the score with 12.2 seconds to go in regulation and Marian Gaborik scoring the winner in a wild, up-and-down overtime period, giving the Kings a 3-2 victory.
The result was a three-point swing in the standings and a little more breathing room for the Kings, with one game to go until the NHL All-Star break. Had they lost in regulation, the Kings’ lead atop the Pacific would have shrunk to six points. Instead, by winning in overtime, they are now nine points up on the Sharks.
“There’s a lot of emotion, not just on the ice but the whole building,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said of SAP Center. “To pull off a win like this shows the character of this team.”
Playing without suspended forward Milan Lucic, the Kings waited until it was almost too late to get their slumbering offense untracked. Lecavalier scored for the fourth time since joining them in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers, establishing inside position on Sharks defenseman Brent Burns and then tapping in a centering feed from captain Dustin Brown that was tipped by Tanner Pearson.
“It definitely feels good,” said Lecavalier, who added later that he didn’t think he had played a good game to that point.
“Twelve seconds left. It was a great play by Brownie. We actually had eye contact. He was in the corner and he saw me go to the front of the net. It was a perfect play. I was just there at the right time.”
Kings goaltender Jhonas Enroth was on the bench for an extra attacker when Lecavalier tied the score.
It was left to the slumping Gaborik to score for the first time since December, on a shot from the left faceoff circle that eluded former Kings goalie Martin Jones high on the glove side.
The smile on Coach Darryl Sutter’s face practically lit up the Shark Tank after Gaborik scored, the win putting an end to a two-game losing streak.
In the Sharks’ dressing room, center Joe Thornton was lamenting the circumstances of the loss, noting: “We thought we had ‘em, but that’s hockey. It was a good hockey game and you can’t hang your heads after a loss like that. We played great and we’ll get better results in the future.
“The first period, they had a real strong period, but after that, I thought it was a great hockey game. Both teams were physical, both teams were into it, both teams had good scoring chances. It was probably one of the best games you’ll see thus far in the regular season. It was exciting.”
The Kings were obliged to play without Lucic, who was suspended for a game by the NHL’s player safety department for a sucker punch to the head of the Arizona Coyotes’ Kevin Connauton the previous night. Pearson took Lucic’s place on the Kings’ No. 1 line.
It was the third suspension of Lucic’s career. The other two occurred when he was with the Boston Bruins.
The incident against the Coyotes occurred at 6:55 of the third period, with the Kings down a goal. Connauton gave Lucic a nasty two-handed slash to the wrist.
Lucic, visibly angered, went after Connauton and cuffed him on the side of the head, earning a two-minute roughing minor plus a game misconduct. Connauton received a minor slashing penalty but remained in the game once his penalty expired.
“In this situation Connauton has no reason to believe a punch may be thrown by Lucic. The play had been blown dead several seconds earlier and Connauton was in no way engaged with Lucic,” the Department of Player Safety said in a video explaining Lucic’s suspension.
“After the whistle blows, Lucic finds Connauton, skates to him and delivers a punch to his head at a moment when Connauton has no way to defend himself in any manner. This is not a situation in which two or more players are squaring off in confrontation. In those situations, it may be reasonable for a player to expect a confrontation to escalate and possibly escalate quickly.”
Follow Lisa Dillman on Twitter: @reallisa