The gust of air coming out of STAPLES Center? It was a huge sigh of relief.
The Kings certainly didn't solve all of their issues when they beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 before a crowd of 17,720, and didn't exactly turn in a dominating 60-minute effort, but they did get back on the winning side of the ledger, and there's much to be said for that.
Losers of four consecutive games, and seven of their previous eight, the Kings were able to enjoy a comeback victory. Peter Harrold scored 2:36 into the third period and Anze Kopitar scored with 2:43 remaining to give the Kings the victory.
Afterward, there were exhales all around. The Panthers outshot the Kings 26-24, and a victory over a sub-.500 team from the Eastern Conference is surely nothing to plan victory parades around, but it did much to lift the grim feeling in the Kings' locker room.
``When you win, it puts everybody in a good mood,'' assistant captain Matt Greene said. ``It's been a while, coming into the locker room and having the music playing and not dreading seeing (the media). It's a good feeling to finally get a win.
``Those are the games that are going to break you through a slump. You're trying, and you have some adversity, and you've got to work through your goals. I think tonight we did that. It's just a great feeling, finally breaking through in that third (period) there.''
The game felt like something of a firewall for the Kings. After four consecutive losses, the sense was that a win over the Panthers -- who entered with losses in four of their previous five games -- was an absolute necessity in order to restore confidence.
With a stretch of 12 consecutive games against Western Conference opponents upcoming -- including Saturday night's home game against first-place Detroit -- the Kings were able to exhale and ease the sting of some recent close losses.
Three of the Kings' last four losses had come by two goals or fewer.
``I didn't think we were that far away from this happening,'' coach Terry Murray said. ``The work has been there. You want it for 60 minutes. It might not have been there for that, over the last few games, and not even tonight, but at the key time, we did a good job.
``We have to build on it. We just have to make sure we're taking this energy, this momentum, and continuing on. We've got to get back on a winning streak. You've got to put five, six, seven games together now, to keep yourself on pace with the rest of the league. It's so darn competitive, and hopefully this is a game that we can look back on and say it did the job for us.''
Arguably, the Kings' most talented players were their best players against the Panthers, and that hasn't always been the case in the recent past.
Kopitar had the game-winning goal and Drew Doughty, after a rough stretch of recent games, was named the game's first star. The Kings had to play through some in-game adversity, as they arguably outplayed the Panthers even as they trailed.
The Kings dominated the scoring chances in the second period, but David Booth scored the period's only goal, to give Florida a 2-1 lead. The Kings didn't wilt, though, as Harrold and Kopitar both worked to pick up rebounds and score the third-period goals.
``When you go through a tough time like this, nothing comes easy,'' Kopitar said. ``Just to get the win, and get on the right track again, I thought we played a good 60 minutes. I thought we outplayed them.
``We didn't outshoot them but I thought we outplayed them, especially in the second period. They iced the puck a few times, just hanging on, but we just couldn't bury it. We knew if we kept on going like that, we were going to get rewarded sooner or later.''
The Kings recorded their sixth consecutive victory over Florida and have not lost to the Panthers at STAPLES Center since 2002. They also went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and are the NHL's only team not to allow a power-play goal at home this season.
The Kings went with new-look forward lines, highlighted by the move of leading scorer Justin Williams to the first line, alongside Kopitar and left wing Dustin Brown.
The Kings broke up the line of Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll and Williams, but at the end of a Florida power play, they were on the ice together. Williams centered a pass to Stoll, and with Smyth running traffic in front of the net, Stoll scored. His wrist shot was stopped initially by goalie Tomas Vokoun, but it got through for a 1-0 Kings lead with 9:36 remaining in the period.
The Kings had allowed the first goal in their previous four games, and lost all four.
The Kings' lead lasted just more than three minutes. Florida tied the game 1-1 with 6:09 remaining in the first period on a tough bounce for the Kings. Keaton Ellerby's shot deflected back over the crossbar, into the crease, as Michal Repik went to the net and Harrold slipped. Repik tapped the puck into the net.
For much of the second period, the Kings had the better of the offensive chances, but the Panthers took the lead with 4:09 remaining. After a battle along the boards, Steve Reinprecht pushed the puck over to Booth. Booth took a quick wrist shot from the middle of the faceoff circle and beat Quick to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
``I thought we were a little tentative in the first period, maybe a little frustrated,'' Murray said. ``Things were not going the way we wanted, with puck movement, some bouncing pucks, some passes that were not completed. We just weren't doing the right thing, getting caught in between, and you could sense it on the bench, behind the bench.
``You could even sense it between periods. Then we came back out in the second and we got our feet going. We got skating, and we got an attitude, and we started to go after the game a little bit and stayed after it the rest of the way.''
Harrold tied the game for the Kings 2:36 into the third period. Kyle Clifford took the puck to the net but had it poked away before he could get off a shot. The puck found its way to the high slot, and Harrold fired a wrist shot through traffic and scored to make it 2-2. Clifford picked up his first NHL point with the assist, and Brad Richardson also got an assist.
The Kings took the lead with 2:43 remaining in the third period. Brown's shot, from near the boards, was saved, but the rebound bounced in front. Kopitar won the battle with Florida's Mike Weaver and poked the puck into the net to give the Kings a 3-2 lead.
``The whole team was good,'' Murray said, ``but the best players came through at the end, and that was great to see, the winning goal. Kopi to finish it off. There was a lot of good effort in the second, and in the third period, especially, just to find a way, to dig in and get it done.''
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 FLA