Their big guys played big, the leaders led by fearless example, and the Kings, on the brink of going home for the summer, got the result they so urgently needed, a 6-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday at Staples Center that extended their season by at least one more game.
"We're alive," said winger Marian Gaborik, who played a huge part in resuscitating them by scoring their first and fifth goals.
Justin Williams scored twice in a three-goal spree in the second period, and rookie Tyler Toffoli chipped in with the kind of skillful goal the Kings need from him in the short- and long-term future.
Though marred by defensive mistakes that contributed to the muted atmosphere in the Kings' locker room afterward, this was what they needed after losing the first three games of their first-round playoff series: balanced and opportunistic scoring, and a pushback against a deep, fast team that had dictated the pace and style until that point.
"If your best players are your best players, it gives you an opportunity to win," said winger Dustin Brown, who responded to being promoted to the first line alongside Gaborik and Anze Kopitar by setting up Gaborik's first-period goal and scoring into an empty net with 1 minute 28 seconds to play.
"I know we had a lot of contributions from a lot of players, but you win and lose with the top guys."
Gaborik alone was worth the price of admission and undoubtedly drove up his free-agent signing price this summer by a few hundred thousand dollars.
"The line changes sparked us a bit. We had some goals, our line," Gaborik said. "Brownie is the captain and he brings a lot to the table. Physical. And we played very good tonight. So we just have to bring it again the next game."
But — and you knew that had to be a but — this was only one game. Only one win. And Game 5 will be at SAP Center, where the Sharks outscored the Kings, 13-5, in winning the first two games.
This was only the first step up a steep mountain, with much work still ahead.
"I think it's just kind of it's about pride in here. We've been through a lot as a group … this is just another challenge," Brown said. "It was one challenge and now we get ready for the next. It's not about dwelling on tonight, because it's irrelevant now."
That they're preparing for another game instead of for an early summer vacation is due in part to Coach Darryl Sutter's decision to move Brown, who had struggled through an underproductive season and lacked the physical presence that had made him so effective, back on the first line. Sutter shifted Williams alongside Jarret Stoll and Dwight King. "You're just trying to get one little edge somehow," Sutter said before the game.
His players turned it into a big edge.
Williams and Brown both recorded their first points of the series. Gaborik, the pure scorer and gamebreaker the Kings needed, played that role well by taking Brown's feed and chipping it past starter Antti Niemi for the Kings' first goal. He then showed extraordinary patience and hands to score their fifth goal, 34 seconds into the third period. That's when Niemi was excused and replaced by Alex Stalock.
"I don't think I'm satisfied," Brown said. "That's what's expected of me and that's what I expect of myself. It's not about what I did tonight. It's about what I'm able to do the next game."
Defenseman Drew Doughty (plus-three defensively over 28 minutes and 2 seconds' ice time) and goaltender Jonathan Quick (36 saves) will probably have to do even more again on Saturday. If the Kings win Game 5, they'll have to be better to win Game 6 and force a seventh game, which would be played at San Jose next Wednesday.
"We got the win, but again, we have to be better in our own zone. We had a couple breakdowns and against this team … the score could have been a lot different tonight, quite honestly," Brown said. "We have to clean up our D zone and our checking."
Every team's playoff mantra is to take things one shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time. But at least the Kings can, finally, also say one win at a time.