The Kings mobbed Dustin Brown on the ice Sunday afternoon, after he scored in overtime to lift them to a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.
Then the Kings, many still wearing their hockey gear, sat around the locker room – some on the floor, looking more than a little like grade-schoolers at story time – and awaited the end of a Chicago-Detroit game that would determine their playoff fate.
Detroit scored in overtime, and settled it. The Kings will be off to Vancouver this week.
In the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the Kings earned the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference and will open the playoffs against the No. 3 Canucks, in Vancouver, with Game 1 to be played on Thursday night.
``You're going to get a real taste of playoff hockey right away,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``A bunch of guys who have never been there, and when you go to a Canadian city, it's not just the team you're playing against.’’
Brown’s goal allowed the Kings to go into the playoffs with a good feeling. After having gone 0-1-3 in their last four, the Kings had to battle the perception that they were ``backing in’’ to the playoffs a bit, by not playing their best hockey.
Sunday’s game wasn’t perfect either, but the Kings – as they have all season – showed third-period spunk, as they tied the game on Jarret Stoll’s deflection with 4:32 left in regulation and won it when Brown knocked in a rebound 1:31 into overtime.
``We came in here today and we had full intentions of winning that game,’’ said defenseman Drew Doughty, whose shot led to Brown’s rebound goal. ``We weren't going to hold back. We didn't care who we played. I think it's really important to get on a roll and get on a winning streak going into the playoffs.’’
Brown, the team captain, pumped his arms and celebrated with great emotion before being quickly surrounded by teammates from the bench.
``It's been (tough), maybe since the Olympic break and maybe even more so in the last (few) games,’’ Brown said of the Kings’ recent play. ``I looked at our record the other day and we had four shootout losses. Those are four huge points for us, but getting it done tonight in overtime was a lot of fun.’’
With the win, the Kings finished the regular season with 101 points and reached the 100-point mark for only the third time in team history. They also tied a franchise record with 46 wins. That number was also a career best for Murray as a head coach.
``It's a win. It's 100-plus points,’’ Murray said. ``I thought that was something that we've been addressing in pregame talks for the past several games. I think it's a great accomplishment. The players, they have to be very proud of themselves.
``I'm very proud of the way they played this year. It's a giant step that this organization has taken in two years. They've got to just put a smile on their face, come to work and enjoy the playoffs. It's going to be tremendous.’’
The Kings now face the Canucks, against whom they went 1-2-1 this season.
Vancouver beat the Kings 2-1 in a shootout on Oct. 29 in Los Angeles, beat the Kings 4-1 on Nov. 26 in Vancouver and beat the Kings 3-1 on Dec. 14 in Vancouver.
In the most recent meeting though, the Kings beat the Canucks 8-3 at STAPLES Center on April 1, a game in which Brown recorded a hat trick.
``Obviously at the start of the season, they kind of had our number,’’ Doughty said. ``I think last season they kind of did as well. But I know we're fully confident in here that we've got the team to do it. We beat them last game 8-3, and hopefully we don't look at that as, `They're not very good' and we go in there and take it to them. It's going to be a lot of fun playing in Vancouver.’’
The day did have a bit of a bittersweet tinge. As they sat around the locker room, the Kings cheered for Chicago to beat Detroit. A Blackhawks win would have given the Kings the No. 5 spot and a first-round series against the No. 4 Phoenix Coyotes.
When Detroit scored, the room fell silent for a moment, but soon players will milling about again, enthusiastically talking about the playoffs, which will be a new experience for 14 of the 24 players on the current roster.
``We wanted fifth, sure,’’ Murray said. ``You want to finish as high as you possibly can in the standings. We had a big push here to win this game, to give us that opportunity. At least we did our part of it today, but it's over and it's on to Vancouver.’’
A big part of the credit for that belongs to goalie Erik Ersberg. Murray contemplated giving the start to No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick, who has not recorded a win in eight consecutive appearances, but decided against it and sent out Ersberg.
Ersberg made Murray look good, as he made 31 saves in the victory. Ersberg was tested early, as the Avalanche had two first-period power plays, but was beaten only once, when Ryan Stoa poked the puck past him, after an initial stop, 9:02 into the first period.
``Early, I thought he was pretty good,’’ Murray said of Ersberg. ``He battled the puck a little bit, on some of those plays behind the net, the handoffs. But he settled in and played very big in the second half of the game.’’
It took the Kings a while to give Ersberg some support, though.
Slow starts, at least in terms of goal production, have been common for the Kings this season, and they generated only 13 shots on goal in the first two periods against a defensive-minded Colorado team on Sunday.
In the third period, though, the Kings outshot the Avalanche 18-13.
``The difference was, the center iceman was lower in the middle of the ice in the neutral zone,’’ Murray said. ``That ended up being the difference. Now it was three, basically. Your two D nice and low in the middle, carrying the puck up through the middle of the ice. Because they had four across the red line.
``It's hard to get that puck through the middle of the ice with maybe just one defenseman trying to do it by himself. So that was the adjustment, and it worked.’’
The Kings tied the game with 4:32 remaining in regulation. Brown made a pass to Matt Greene, who took a slap shot from just inside the blue line. Stoll got a stick on the puck as it went by, and the shot beat Colorado goalie Craig Anderson.
Then, 1:31 into overtime, Brown positioned himself on the left side of the net and was essentially all alone when a rebound came to him. He swiftly put it into the net to end the game and start the celebration.
One of the first players to reach Brown was Doughty, and there’s some poetry in that. Brown and Doughty – along with Jack Johnson and Quick – were in Vancouver together on Feb. 28, when Canada beat USA in the gold-medal game of the Olympics.
Now the Kings get to return to the building where Doughty won his gold medal.
``I guess I can hopefully bring that luck to Vancouver with me,’’ Doughty said. ``I have a lot of memories in that building already, so hopefully we can continue to make them happen.’’
The Kings played without center Michal Handzus, who did not accompany the team to Denver. Murray called it a ``therapy day’’ for the veteran center, who missed a game for the first time in his three seasons with the Kings.
1 - 0 COL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 LAK
Too many men on the ice