SAN JOSE – Then, in the 32nd game of the season, the floods came.
The goal droughts all vanished Wednesday night. Teddy Purcell, at 26 games? Gone in the first period. Anze Kopitar, at 13 games? Gone in the second period. Dustin Brown, at 14 games? Gone, with the biggest goal of them all, 1:16 into overtime, a goal that lifted the Kings to a 5-4 victory over San Jose at HP Pavilion.
The Kings didn’t merely win, didn’t merely beat the top team in the Western Conference in its own building and didn’t merely improve to 5-0-1 in their last six games. They were also able to celebrate slump-ending, exhale-inducing goals from three important players.
To say that monkeys were removed from backs would be quite the understatement.
``It feels like the whole zoo came out,’’ Purcell said.
Brown’s drought had been the most perplexing. He shot and shot and shot, regularly leading the team in shots on goal, but none would go in. Even early in the third period Wednesday, Brown had an open look in front of the net but couldn’t score.
It almost figures, then, that Brown’s drought ended on a broken play in overtime.
Brown got control of the puck, carried it into the San Jose zone and stopped at the left circle. He spun, held the puck and put a wrist shot past Evgeni Nabokov.
``They threw it out of our zone and I just got a jump on it,’’ Brown said. ``It was 2 on 1 with a backchecker. They backchecked pretty hard, and I just cut to the middle. I had it on my backhand and I just spun and shot. Obviously it wasn't the hardest shot, but I think I got him when he was moving. I'm not really sure.’’
The goal celebration, obviously, felt a little sweeter than normal.
``It's been a while,’’ Brown said. ``The only thing is, I could remember going through something like that last year. Definitely, I think this one was a little more tough. I've been getting a million chances, and sometimes it just doesn't go in.
``It kind of works out that way. You get 10 million grade-A scoring chances, and then you throw one on net and it find a way.’’
That seemed to be the theme for the Kings, who held a two-goal lead midway through the second period but couldn’t hold it. Dan Boyle pulled the Sharks within 4-3 with 7:22 left in the second period, and Manny Malhotra tied the game with 7:41 left in the third.
Given those goals, and the consistent pressure from the Sharks throughout the game, the Kings might have seemed destined for one point, not two, but Brown pulled them through. In three games against the Sharks this season, the Kings now have a regulation win, a shootout loss and an overtime victory.
That’s five points, out of a possible six, in three games against the team that had the most points in the NHL in the regular season last year.
``I think, for our confidence, it's big,’’ Kopitar said. ``We came here, and the first one we lost in a shootout, and then this one we won in OT. That's a hard place to play in. The crowd is right on top of you. It's loud all the time. The place is rocking. I've seen some teams come in here and just melt down. I think we really showed our character.
``Even when they scored that fourth goal, we didn't let down. … Looking back, last year, or previous years, we would just melt after that fourth goal. We stuck with it.’’
The Kings also got goals from Jarret Stoll and Drew Doughty, and made a winner of goalie Erik Ersberg, who made only his third start of the season and his first since Nov. 11. Ersberg stopped 30 of 34 shots.
And against San Jose’s penalty-kill unit, which has been the best in the NHL this season and almost impenetrable at home, the Kings went 2 for 5 on the power play.
``It's a big boost for us, knowing that we're capable, when we want to, to play with these guys,’’ Brown said. ``They won the President's Cup last year, and I think they're first in the NHL right now. So from that standpoint, coming in here and getting points is a huge boost for us, especially in confidence.’’
The good karma started early for the Kings, with Purcell’s goal. Purcell's wrist shot from the top of the left circle got through and beat Nabokov, with a nice screen from Michal Handzus, at the 6:12 mark of the first period.
``Sometimes, when you start in a slump, you're kind of up and down,’’ Purcell said. ``You know you can do it at this level, but at the same time it's still in the back of your mind. You're in the slump for a reason, and you're trying everything you can to get out of it. It's real important that I got that, and hopefully I can build off it and they will start coming in bunches.’’
The Sharks tied the game in the middle part of the period. The Kings' defensemen seemed to get caught behind the play, and a quick 2-on-1 developed for San Jose. Joe Pavelski took the pass from Kent Huskins and roofed a shot past Ersberg with 8:32 left in the first period. Ryan Clowe started the play with a nice pass from the boards.
The Sharks took the lead with a power-play goal with 37 seconds left in the period. After a scramble in front of the Kings' net, Ersberg was sitting on the ice but couldn't locate the puck, and Patrick Marleau slapped it past him to give San Jose a 2-1 lead.
With the teams skating 4-on-4 early in the second period, the Kings tied the game. Stoll, skating through the middle of the San Jose zone, tipped a shot from Jack Johnson into the net, after Brown made a nice play to get the puck to Johnson. The goal came 1:32 into the second period.
Just as Purcell ended his scoring drought in the first period, Kopitar ended a shorter one when he scored a power-play goal 5:43 into the second period. Doughty made the play happen, as he skated the puck down low and fed a perfect pass to Kopitar, who did a good job of getting to the net and deflecting home Doughty's pass.
``You try not to think about it, but it's always there,’’ Kopitar said of his drought. ``You watch some hockey on TV, on your off days, and you see soft goals going in and you think, `I might as well get one of those.' I'll take one right off my (butt). You try not to think about it, but it sure effects your game. The net looks smaller, or the goalies look bigger. But now it's behind me, behind us, I should say, and we're up and running now.’’
The Kings took a two-goal lead at the 8:32 mark of the second period. Rob Scuderi kept the puck in the San Jose zone and pushed it across to Doughty. Doughty took a stride toward the net and fired a slap shot from the top of the right circle that beat Nabokov.
San Jose scored a big goal to pull within one with 7:22 left in the second period. A nice pass by Dany Heatley sparked a breakout, and Boyle brought the puck up the right side. Boyle had Patrick Marleau going to the net, but kept the puck and beat Ersberg five-hole with a wrist shot.
The Sharks tied the game in the third period. Brown’s outlet attempt got picked off by Ryan Clowe in the neutral zone, and then Malhotra's sharp wrist shot from the high slot beat Ersberg to the top right corner to tie the game with 7:41 remaining.
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 SJS