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Brad Richardson drew blood, and then the San Jose Sharks could smell it in the water.
Richardson’s high-sticking of San Jose’s Douglas Murray sent the Sharks on a four-minute power-play with less than seven minutes remaining in the third period of a tie game. One goal would, almost certainly, send the Sharks to victory over the Kings.
The Kings, however, wouldn’t have it. They killed the entire San Jose power play, nearly won the game in overtime and then claimed two points in the shootout as the beat the Sharks 3-2 on Wednesday night before a sellout of 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
Jarret Stoll scored the lone goal of the shootout in the fourth round, and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick stopped all four shots he faced as the Kings went into the five-day All-Star break with a much-needed three-game winning streak.
``That was a playoff game,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``There was good checking. There were some big hits. There was some scoring. It was a fun game. And big goaltending at both ends. Both guys, I thought, were very big. They came up, not only in the overtime and the shootout, but on the 5-on-5, there were a couple of plays that both goaltenders looked outstanding.’’
To be certain, life is still not all sunshine and roses for the Kings. They go into the break in 11th place in the Western Conference, but they’re also only one point behind seventh-place Chicago, and the outlook looks far rosier for the Kings than it did one week ago.
Last Thursday, the Kings were shut out by Phoenix for their 10th loss in their previous 12 games. Overall, the Kings’ level of play wasn’t as grim as results indicated, but things were falling apart fast, and games against Phoenix, Boston and San Jose loomed.
So, how did the Kings respond? They held on to beat the Coyotes 4-3. They put forth one of their best efforts of the season to beat the Bruins 2-0. Then, on Wednesday, they needed every bit of grit they could muster to beat the Sharks in a playoff-type game.
``It’s huge, absolutely,’’ Quick said. ``We need wins. We need two points. We dug a little hole for ourselves, and I think we’ve done a good job of starting to climb back out, but we still have a lot of work to do. So we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We’re going to take it one game at a time and try to get two points every time.’’
In the first period, the teams felt each other out, and offensive chances were limited.
The Kings got a huge lift when Ryan Smyth scored a second-period goal, but less than three minutes later, the Sharks had two goals on the scoreboard and led 2-1.
The third period was tight-checking, hard-hitting and full of emotion and extremely hard play on both sides. The Kings saved their best hockey for the third period, and tied the game 2-2 on Alexei Ponikarovsky’s goal 5:47 into the final period.
Then, disaster nearly struck. After a battle in the corner, in the San Jose zone, Richardson’s stick got up and cut Murray in the mouth area, resulting in an automatic double-minor penalty and a four-minute power play for the Sharks.
Over the next four minutes, the Sharks sent waves of talented players onto the ice. Dany Heatley. Joe Thornton. Patrick Marleau. Logan Couture. Dan Boyle. The Sharks, though, managed only three shots on goal in the four minutes, and didn’t score.
``It was everything,’’ Kings defenseman Jack Johnson said. ``It was the game. That was the difference between pretty much getting into overtime and getting a point, or zero points. Four minutes is a long time to kill (against) the San Jose Sharks. They have a lot of world-class players over there, so it was a great penalty kill.
``It definitely gives you some confidence and gives you a chance to get a point. You get a point out of the game. If they score there, it’s going to make it pretty tough on us to get a goal with only a couple of minutes left in the hockey game.’’
The Kings seemed emboldened, and the Sharks deflated, by the results of the power play, and the Kings outshot the Sharks 3-1 in overtime and then stayed perfect in the shootout, improving their record to 5-0 this season in the one-on-one battle.
Anze Kopitar and Johnson hit the post with their attempts, and Couture lost control of the puck as he approached the net, but Stoll beat Antti Niemi cleanly with a wrist shot in the fourth round and Quick made the save on Marleau’s wrist shot to end the shootout.
Quick looked shaky late in the second period, when he allowed the two San Jose goals in quick succession, but otherwise was sharp. Quick made his best save of the game in overtime, on the Sharks' only shot. Quick got his skate on a shot by Couture that seemed headed for the back of the net.
Quick made 22 saves and the Kings kept the Sharks’ big three forwards -- Heatley, Marleau and Thornton -- off the score sheet.
``That’s a team effort,’’ Murray said. ``You’ve got to have the right D pair out there, to try to match that up. We believe on the back end more than the line matchup. And your goaltender has to be very big. Quick was outstanding. That’s three games in a row, now, for him, that he’s been great. When you have those premier players in the game facing you, you just have to make sure that everyday is tracking back.
``A real important part of it, against that team, I think, is to put back pressure on them, because they do a lot of crossing. They do a lot of delays, and looking for weak-side defensemen, so back pressure is critical, with your stick down, looking and anticipating those kinds of plays. Everybody was on board with it.’’
Now, the Kings -- and every NHL team -- will rest for four teams before flying to Minnesota on Monday for the start of 10 consecutive road games. It won’t be easy, particularly for a Kings team that is under .500 on the road this season.
The first goal of the tight-checking game came with 6:25 remaining in the second period. Stoll entered the San Jose zone and pushed the puck ahead to Smyth. Smyth took it to the right boards, then abruptly cut to the middle of the ice. Smyth's wrist shot, from the slot, got through traffic and beat Niemi to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.
Smyth now has a team-high 18 goals, but less than three minutes after they took the lead, the Kings trailed.
San Jose tied the game with 4:36 remaining in the second period, on a counterattack. Ryane Clowe picked up the puck deep in his own zone, skated it into the Kings' zone and beat Quick with a long-range wrist shot, to the high corner, to tie the game just 1:51 after Smyth's goal.
The Sharks then took the lead 39 seconds later. Quick attempted to play the puck behind his net, but lost it to Devin Setoguchi. Setoguchi got off a wraparound shot, and Quick stopped the puck initially before it trickled past him as the Sharks took a 2-1 lead with 3:57 remaining in the second period.
``They’re a great offensive team,’’ Quick said of the Sharks. ``They’ve got a lot of weapons and they’re going to score goals. it’s going to happen. You can’t expect to shut them out every time you play them, so you’re prepared for that. Things happen, so you forget about it. You have a short memory, you move on and you’ve got to be there to make the next save.’’
After some early-period pressure, the Kings tied the game 5:47 into the third period. The line of Ponikarovsky, Michal Handzus and Richardson helped cycle the puck for nearly a minute in the offensive zone, and Handzus and Richardson got their sticks on pucks in close range before Ponikarovsky knocked in a rebound to tie the game 2-2.
Ponikarovsky scored his fourth goal of the season, and his first since Dec. 18. In between, Ponikarovsky missed six games with an ankle injury and, more recently, missed two games when he was made a healthy scratch by Murray.
``The shift, that was the kind of shift that you have to have,’’ Murray said. ``You want to continue to play the game the right way, making plays, getting on the puck. We’d been doing a lot of good things in the game, and you just want to continue to do it. I thought the shift was absolutely outstanding. Recovering pucks, after they tried to clear it two or three times. Scuderi keeps it in. You just want to keep pucks going to the net. Good things can happen. I think that’s a clip you could pull off and just show your guys in development camp, or training camp, and just say, `This is the attitude you have to have.’
``It ends up being the tying goal, a huge goal. I was happy for Poni, because he has had a difficult stretch here as an L.A. King. A couple injuries, but maybe that will be the catalyst to really get him starting to put the puck in the net more consistently.’’