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DALLAS -- Fifty-nine minutes of tight-checking hockey. Big hits. Big saves. Momentum-turning special teams-play. And, then, one minute of barely-controlled chaos.
The Kings held the lead for nearly the entire game, lost it with 42.1 seconds remaining, then got it back when Michal Handzus scored with 20.8 seconds left to give his team a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Sunday afternoon at American Airlines Center.
Emotions, and short-term impact on the Western Conference standings, swung wildly. By winning in regulation, the Kings leapfrogged the Stars and moved into fourth place in the conference, albeit still only three points ahead of ninth-place Nashville.
``I think it's huge,'' Handzus said. ``We didn't want one of those three-point games, obviously. It's huge that we won in regulation, and we jump a little bit ahead of them.''
Until the final minute, it seemed as though the game would be remembered as a gritty affair. Drew Doughty scored a power-play goal less than four minutes into the game, Dustin Penner added a second-period goal and the Kings seemed poised to hold on, even after Dallas' Brad Richards halved their lead late in the second period.
Then, it all happened. Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen went to the bench, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick ended up flat on his back, trying to cover a loose puck, and Dallas' Jamie Langenbrunner poked it in to make it a 2-2 game with 42.1 seconds remaining.
``We don't want them to score that late,'' Handzus said, ``but after those goals we're always talking about the next shift, to have a good next shift. There's no panic. We've got a lot of confidence right now. Obviously it's not great that they scored, but we had to keep going. It was a 2-2 game on the road, so we just played the situation.''
Before the buzz from the crowd of 15,627 had a chance to subside, Handzus won the center-ice faceoff. Willie Mitchell's long-range shot was saved, but Wayne Simmonds picked up the rebound and carried it behind the net, then back in front, to Lehtonen's left.
Simmonds got the puck to the net, and four Kings converged, with Lehtonen scrambling a bit, searching for the puck. Alexei Ponikarovsky poked at the puck before Handzus, standing directly in front of the net, knocked it in and set off a spirited celebration.
``I was coming in, but I was thinking Poni might throw it in,'' Handzus said. ``The goalie was outside the crease, so I was kind of coming in and looking for the puck. It hit my stick and I was able to redirect it. It was a great play by those two guys, Simmer and Poni, and obviously Mitchell too. He found a lane to get it to the net, and it was a scramble after that.''
It's obvious, at this point in the season, to say that every point is critical, but in this era of three-point games, winning in regulation is a huge added bonus. Thus, the Kings were able to hold Dallas at 82 points, which could end up being big at the end of the season.
``That was an emotional roller coaster,'' Penner said. ``I think it's a credit to the guys in the locker room, not to get down, especially when they score with 40 seconds left. For us to bounce back, it showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. It's almost like ignorance, or a naive attitude, to where we don't care if they tied it up. We're going to come back and get the next one. Other teams might fold the tent.''
For most of the game, there wasn't a lot of open ice to be found. The Kings outshot the Stars 30-23, but each team did a good job of defending the middle of the ice and not letting the other get sustained pressure. Quick was beaten only on Richards' breakaway goal and on Langenbrunner's poke, after it seemed that Quick had covered the puck.
So, in short, it was a typical Kings-Stars game. The teams have met face times this season, with the Kings now holding a 3-1-1 edge. The last three meetings have been one-goal games, and an April 2 matchup at STAPLES Center remains.
``It's a very interesting team there,'' coach Terry Murray said of the Stars. ``They really have tight spaces on the puck. They have great support and there's a lot of puck possession. Especially in the second period, I thought we had a tough time getting out of our end. We didn't give up any shots. Everything was on the perimeter, but just territorially, they held on and had a significant advantage in that area.''
The Kings recorded another road win, and simply another win. They're now 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and 10-1-3 in their last 14 road games. The current four-game road trip concludes Tuesday night at Nashville.
``When you get on the road, you know you have to play well,'' Murray said, ``that you've got to do the right things, that everything really matters. Every pass, every play is important. Every shift is important. The young hockey club that we are, we have that locked in pretty well, on the emotional side of the game, that this is the most important part.''
The Kings played with the lead for most of Sunday's game, as they scored on the game's first power play, 3:04 into the first period.
Ponikarovsky controlled the puck deep in the Dallas zone and sent it high. Jarret Stoll passed across to Doughty, whose slap shot from the top of the right circle beat Lehtonen -- with Ponikarovsky running traffic in front -- to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.
Doughty started his season with two goals in his first 37 games, and now has seven goals in his last 26 games.
The Kings took a 2-0 lead with 5:59 remaining in the second period, following a defensive-zone faceoff win and a nice breakout. Justin Williams got the puck into the Dallas zone before being knocked off the puck, but Anze Kopitar was there to pick it up and find Penner alone in front. Penner tapped the puck past Lehtonen for the goal.
Penner has two goals and three assists in six games with the Kings since he arrived from Edmonton in a Feb. 28 trade.
``Kopi made a great pass, but the play started with Willy on the blue line, making an extra effort after getting hit and sticking with it,'' Penner said. ``Kopi came in, and you needed a base to start the play like that, to get it going, with the tic-tac-toe play that me and Kopi had.''
A breakaway goal by Richards pulled the Stars within one goal late in the second period. Richards got behind the Kings' defense in the neutral zone, then controlled a long pass from Loui Eriksson, skated in alone and beat Quick to narrow the Kings' lead to 2-1 with exactly two minutes remaining in the second period.
That set up an intense third period, but one in which the Kings outshot the Stars 12-6 and played with poise in their own zone. Then, things got exciting in the final minute, with the two veterans, Langenbrunner and Handzus, trading big goals.
``That's a tough one, whenever that happens,'' Murray said of Langenbrunner's goal. ``I thought Quicker had it covered, and he kind of lost it, but what a response. That's the main thing. What a response by that line. They get the puck to the net and dig in. There's a lot of traffic, a lot of people banging and hacking around the blue paint, and the puck pops on Zeus' stick. So it was a good finish for us.''