The 18,000-plus fans who crammed into Staples Center didn’t want to leave, lingering to digest what they had seen and savor an improbable moment. Who could blame them for trying to prolong a moment so stunning that it was at least the equal of the many feats the Kings pulled off last spring in winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 45 years?
The Kings won a game they seemed bound to lose Thursday, rallying for two goals in the last two minutes for a 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks to take a solid 2-0 series lead. The Kings were outshot for most of the game and outplayed for nearly the entire contest, and they dearly missed center Jarret Stoll, who is believed to have suffered a concussion as the result of a blow to the head in Game 1. That hit got Sharks winger Raffi Torres suspended for the remainder of the series, however long that might be.
At this rate, it might not be very long.
Despite the curves that were thrown at them, the Kings prevailed. Sweaty and bloody, bent but not broken, a 12-game home winning streak theirs to enjoy.
“Two big power-play goals,” team captain Dustin Brown said as he unwound the tape from around his skates in the locker room.
“We stayed with it. I’ve said this before: Experience is one thing. It’s another thing to have all that experience together as a group of guys because that goes a long way when you get yourself in a hole.
“We didn’t play a great game tonight but we found a way to win. That’s the important thing.”
They didn’t just find a way: They carved a trail through a thicket of big-bodied Sharks, who also brought their skill to the forefront to erase a 2-0 Kings lead and take a 3-2 advantage in the third period.
As if that weren’t dire enough for the Kings, they lost center Anze Kopitar for a few minutes early in the third period after he was hit in the face by a shot Brown had taken. He had to go to the locker room for repairs on a cut above the left side of his mouth and returned to the strains of the theme from “Rocky,” a prophetic note.
Had he been gone longer, the Kings would have been in deep trouble. They were already missing Stoll and won only 32% of the faceoffs they took Thursday.
“He may not be a top-two-line guy for us but he’s got a lot of fingerprints all over the game every time we have one,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said of Stoll, a neat summation of the veteran’s value on the penalty-killing unit, in the faceoff circle and a respected voice among the team’s leaders.
And yet, the Kings killed off four disadvantages and scored three power-play goals of their own.
The first came on a huge Drew Doughty slap shot; they had a five-on-three manpower advantage when Brown jammed the puck home and past Antti Niemi from close range with 1 minute 43 seconds left in the third period and a five-on-four edge when Trevor Lewis, set up by rookie Tyler Toffoli, had the entire left half of the net empty to deposit the winner.
Two hundred feet away, while Staples Center fairly shook, goaltender Jonathan Quick watched and kept his emotions hidden behind his mask. He had to keep them in check. His job wasn’t done yet.
“They tie it up and you’re excited,” he said. “You’re always happy to see guys score. And also in your head you’ve still got a minute and a half that you’ve got to keep them off the board.
“That’s immediately what you think about. We were able to do it.”
Kopitar, blood seeping from the cut above his lip, adhered to the party line that the Kings have long maintained. Never too high, never too low. “It wasn’t our best,” he said of the team’s performance. “We pulled it out … this time.”
The series will shift to San Jose for Game 3 on Saturday with the Kings holding a commanding lead — and also the knowledge that as down as they might be, they’re almost never out.