LOS ANGELES- Despite holding three one-goal leads, the Los Angeles Kings left openings for the Stars to rally repeatedly and win the game in the opening 18 seconds of overtime 4-3 Monday night at Staples Center.
“We’re a team that if we’re going to make the playoffs we’re going to need to lock games like these down,” said Kings winger Justin Williams. “We missed an opportunity to jump ahead of these guys in the standings.”
For the Stars, their captain Brenden Morrow praised the resilience of his team, which he said was not nearly as strong in years past.
“We just wipe those things away and come back to try and steal the momentum on the next shift,” Morrow said.
The typically stout Kings ceded critical portions of the ice, lost defensive battles and did not value the puck as highly as one might expect at times in this game.
“It was funny because usually you don’t get many opportunities against the Kings. They play so well, so solidly defensively that they don’t give you many opportunities,” Dallas Head Coach Marc Crawford said.
Center Mike Ribeiro may have contributed the most to the Dallas effort as he recorded a goal and two assists, including a spellbinding setup on the game-winning goal.
“He had the puck on a string, he was pretty determined with the puck, he logged a lot of ice time for us, killed some penalties, was pretty good on the power play for us, and of course those goals that he helped to set up,” Crawford said.
The critical intradivisional game left the Stars in a tie for fifth place in the Western Conference and the Kings in the eighth and final playoff position.
Still, the two teams are separated by a mere two points. Dallas concluded a four-game road trip in which they earned seven of a possible eight points and the teams will meet again when the Kings conclude their own upcoming four-game trip, the third game of which will be in Dallas on Mar. 13.
“We’ve been looking at (the standings) since Christmas pretty much. I can’t remember a year in the past when it was this early, kind of scoreboard watching. In a game or two you can go from fourth to 11th or 12,” Morrow said.
Los Angeles struck first as Anze Kopitar cycled on the left side and dropped a pass back to the point for Willie Mitchell. Mitchell’s slap shot hit Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas and beat Kari Lehtonen low. Justin Williams earned the secondary assist on the play for his 400th career point.
On the next Dallas possession, a precise cross-ice pass found Mike Ribeiro in prime scoring position, but Jonathan Bernier slid across with his pads stacked to make a stunning save.
Kings Head Coach Terry Murray praised his young netminder Bernier, whose play had been outstanding in his last eight appearances heading into this game, including a shutout against Phoenix in his previous start.
“The goals that were scored were other parts of the game; he had no chance on some of them,” said Murray. “He had a couple other challenging plays he made big stops on so he had a good game.”
Mitchell hit the net again during a four-on-four situation and nearly returned the favor by setting up Kopitar for a goal on the rebound, but this time Lehtonen saw and stopped both shots.
Kyle Clifford, who earned a roughing penalty after Steve Ott speared one of his teammates, exploded into an unsuspecting Jamie Benn between the penalty boxes to close the period with a bang.
Ott’s spearing call was called “Absolutely nothing” by Crawford. “Guys get hurt more when you wipe dandruff off their shoulder,” he added. Crawford said the agitator Ott’s was a tough loss for the Stars in the game but he did not expect any further action from the league beyond the major and automatic game misconduct Ott received.
Los Angeles was left with 2:42 of a three-minute power play they got on the back end of Ott’s penalty to start the second. They got another two minutes of time with the extra man on a goaltender interference call but failed do much meaningful with nearly five minutes of power-play time.
“(The long penalty kill) was huge,” said Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley. “Our goalie was big throughout that kill. This whole year, when the time comes, he’s been good for us.”
The Stars drew the game even soon after their extended penalty kill. This time Ribeiro would not be denied as he hammered home a smooth backhand pass from Adam Burish.
It was a tough night defensively for the accomplished veteran Ryan Smyth, who was -3 and involved in this back-checking breakdown as well as a blown assignment on a Daley goal later in the game.
The Kings quickly regained the lead in a play that was equal parts creativity, determination and persistence by Williams. He created a rebound with a shot from just past the red line, he beat multiple Dallas defenders to the puck and then followed up his effort with a series of smacks, the third of which found the back of the net.
Dallas knotted up the game less than two minutes into the third. A broken cycle gave the always opportunistic defenseman Daley an opportunity to activate on the play. He crept into the left faceoff circle and wristed the equalizer in off a pass from Ribeiro.
“When you get the puck in the hands of a guy like Ribeiro it makes things a lot easier to jump up there,” said Daley. “I just jumped in and he found me. I just shot it and scored.”
Seconds later, a neutral-zone turnover was collected by Trevor Lewis, whose stretch pass found Clifford in space. The rookie grinder Clifford scored his fifth goal of the year as his shot from the left dot beat Lehtonen high to the glove side.
Benn would exact his revenge for the big hit he sustained earlier in the game. Drew Doughty overextended his stick at the blue line and Benn pounced on a puck he took the other way to score a shorthanded breakaway.
“When you give up a short-handed goal, that’s disappointing. That’s over-handling the puck and not doing the right things at the right time,” Murray said.
Dallas nearly took their first lead of the evening when a frantic sequence turned the puck into a jumping bean. Toby Peterson and Jason Williams each got in decent whacks to knock the puck down and in but neither man scored.
Los Angeles soon had their own wild chance in front when Clifford was denied his first career multi-goal game by Lehtonen, who spread eagle in the crease to deny a nearly certain goal with his right pad. Clifford’s swipe at the rebound was deflected just wide as though it had eyes fixated on the trapezoid behind the goal.
The Stars ended the game early in overtime. It was Ribeiro once more, gliding into the middle and creating a sizable gap for Brendan Morrow to scoot in to score the game-winner.
“(Ribeiro) kind of mesmerizes people with the puck, he just comes in wit h a pretty slow developing play,” said Morrow. “Not sure if he passed it to me or if I stole it, but I just chipped it back to myself and it found a hole. It wasn’t real hard, it was just a quick shot and I don’t think (Bernier) got time to get set.”
For Dallas, they return home for an extended stand and a shot at firming up their place amid the Western Conference playoff teams.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles will hit the road for four contests, the first of which will be against the Red Wings at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.