One of the better parts of Hockey Beat Writer Twitter is that Spaceballs references are still very much in vogue 31 years after the movie was released. There are always applicable references. For one, the first period of last night’s game was played at Ludicrous Speed, and it was, especially for the first 4:37, a breathtaking exchange of pace and scoring chances. And after the Golden Knights won a defensive zone draw and caught the Kings flat-footed in transition (perhaps as they expected a puck deflection to be won in the other direction), Erik Haula’s two-on-one wrister was a reminder that this was the type of game that would probably benefit the Kings were it to evolve into a display of strong puck management and possession, and not lightning-quick counter attacks. It ultimately did evolve towards that in Los Angeles’ well-played and calmed-down second period, but the Kings weren’t able to generate any substantial pressure from high-danger areas or enter the zone with any real threatening ability, and by the end of the period their momentum was blunted as they were forced to kill off multiple penalties. And, by that point, any sort of marginal territorial advantage was weighed against the fact that Jonathan Quick was keeping Los Angeles in the game, even as Marc-Andre Fleury was turning in a special performance at the other end of the ice, as well.
But Quick and the Kings killed off those dicey shorthanded moments, and as they entered the third period trailing by a goal in a game well played by both sides, it did seem as though the final 20 minutes would provide a prime opportunity to respond with emotional catharsis that’s often palpable when late season turning points seem to be materializing before they actually are. For one isolated example, last year, in Jonathan Quick’s first game back, it just felt as though the team would erupt with a 20 minute release of anger and emotion and will. Reilly Smith laughed at such narratives. But one shift does not end a game, and in a friendlier bounce than the ones that had worked against the Kings recently, Jeff Carter called bank off both Fleury and Cody Eakin, and all of a sudden the team was one needle-threaded Dion Phaneuf pass to Anze Kopitar away from tying the game with a furious push in the final seconds. Shortly before Quick denied Alex Tuch’s three-on-one bid, there was also a terrific push by Kopitar, Phaneuf, Alec Martinez, Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson late in the third that continued to force Vegas back on its heels and set the stage for the furious last-gasp barrage.
There were two intelligent plays that set up Brown’s terrific hands-in-front-of-the-net-while-taking-a-hit game-winner. The first was when a loose puck caromed to Jeff Carter, and he pushed it forward into an open area where his speed or Tobias Rieder’s would be able to make a play on it. It led to Colin Miller hooking his stick in/around Rieder’s hands, and Rieder did a good job of immediately latching onto the stick to provide a strong visual. It was a bit of a borderline call, but if a stick comes up into an opponent’s hands, the infracting player is placing himself in a position where something might get called. From there, Brown’s tried and true net-front presence yet again provided dividends, allowing the Kings to win an important and relatively evenly played home game. The Kings are 15-11-3 at home this year, and if they’re going to be a playoff team, with 12 home games remaining out of 19 games total, they’re going to need to continue to push that home record well above .500. Monday’s game, against a very strong opponent, was an important step towards doing so.