Dustin Brown pounced on a loose puck and swatted it into the back of the net with 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining in the third period of Game 2 of the Kings’ second-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at Staples Center.
Trevor Lewis guided a long rebound into the net from the left wing with 1:21 remaining in what became an improbable 4-3 come-from-behind victory for the Kings over the Sharks in the game and a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-7 series.
The series shifts to San Jose for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Tuesday.
What looked like an almost certain loss and a deadlocked series as the final minutes ticked past for the Kings in Game 2 now looks like a commanding lead for the defending Stanley Cup champions. If nothing else, the Kings proved Thursday they are difficult to defeat.
“It’s huge, I guess,” Brown said of the rather large momentum swing after the Kings rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win with power-play goals only 22 seconds apart.
While some of his teammates appeared stunned by the remarkable turn of events, Brown said at his locker stall and spoke calmly and coolly about an electric comeback and a potentially series-altering victory after the Kings squandered a two-goal lead.
“It’s a roller-coaster, but again when you go through the experience of everything that we did last year and you try to keep your emotions in check,” Brown said. “There’s still a 1:30 left in the game after we take the lead. There’s still a lot of work to be done. Then you try to re-focus, individually and as a group, and calm the bench down and get ready to go.
“It’s finding a way to get the job done after that.”
Post-game crowds around Brown are commonplace during the season, and especially during the playoffs. It’s a rare day or night when reporters cluster around Lewis, who is better known for playing on the Kings’ third line and on their penalty-kill unit.
Lewis deflected credit for his first goal of the playoffs to rookie winger Tyler Toffoli, whose shot from the right wing caromed off Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi and landed on his stick on the left wing. Lewis also praised goalie Jonathan Quick for keeping the Kings in the game.
Lewis was not oblivious to his accomplishment, however.
“I almost passed out in celebration,” he said.
The frantic ending overshadowed an unsteady start and an even shakier middle, when the Kings squandered a 2-0 lead and were outplayed badly at times by the faster and more energetic Sharks. Marc-Edouard Vlasic put the Sharks into the lead at 8:56 of the final period.
Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty (power play) scored to give the Kings a two-goal lead, but the Sharks countered with goals from Patrick Marleau (power play) and Brad Stuart to tie the score late in the second period. Marleau ended Quick’s shutout streak at 125:08.
Brad Richardson, Kings coach Darryl Sutter’s pick to replace injured center Jarret Stoll for Game 2, set up Doughty’s goal with a deft backhand pass from the left wing to the right point. Richardson started the game playing between wingers Lewis and Dustin Penner.
San Jose coach Todd McLellan shifted center Scott Gomez to the second line from the third in the wake of a series-long suspension to Raffi Torres for his shoulder-to-head hit that injured Stoll in Game 1, and the move paid dividends. Gomez assists on the Stuart and Vlasic goals.
Vlasic put the Sharks ahead 3-2 with his first career playoff goal. He then put then in a bind when he was whistled for shooting the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty with 2:19 remaining. He followed Stuart to the penalty box after Stuart took a tripping penalty with 2:41 left.
Brown’s goal came off a goal-mouth scramble after Mike Richards’ perimeter shot with the Kings on a two-man advantage. Lewis’ score came off a rush down the ice with Toffoli leading the way with the Kings skating 5-on-4.
“We found a way,” Sutter said succinctly at game’s end.