LOS ANGELES — The Kings fell behind in the opening seconds of play Wednesday night against the Sharks, and do so two more times before the game was over.
But each time, the Kings managed to find a way to come back and tie, keeping the pressure firmly on their Northern California rivals.
Finally, the Kings took one definitive lead when Anze Kopitar ripped a one-timer past Sharks’ goaltender Antti Niemi with 2:32 left in overtime for a game-winning power play goal to earn the win 4-3 win and cap off a thrilling contest.
The game had a playoff-like atmosphere right from the start. It was fast, physical and a sellout crowd of 18,118 only added another level of hype.
“That’s probably the closest you can get to playoff hockey at this time of year,” Kopitar said. “I thought there was a lot of intensity, lots of hitting.”
No shortage of penalties, the game came down to special teams play in the end as the last three goals were all on the power play.
“As usual, when we play these guys it comes down to special teams,” Kopitar said. “Whoever wins special teams battle got the two points.”
The Sharks came in having won four of their last five and in first place in the Western Conference with 22 points. The Kings kept San Jose’s winning streak to just two, earning two points and gaining valuable ground in the Pacific Division.
The Kings were coming off a dismal performance in Phoenix Tuesday night and finishing a tough stretch of three games in four nights. It looked as though Tuesday’s play had carried over when Marc-Edouard Vlasic put the Sharks on the board just 13 seconds into play.
But only a few minutes later, a Drew Doughty snap shot evened the score at 1-1.
“We’re playing the best team in the league,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “The best part for me was the fact that they scored a few seconds in and we were coming right back.”
The Kings refused back down the rest of the night. There was a high level of forechecking and the Sharks were held to just 20 shots while the Kings fired off 23.
“It shows the character,” Kopitar said. “There’s no quitting in this one. I know it was just the first period, but we could have easily packed it in after the first 13 seconds, just decided not to show up. But we came back just a few minutes later and made it a different game.”
The blood between the two opponents is most typically associated with the postseason. The Kings eliminated the Sharks last year, while San Jose remains the only team in California to have never won a Stanley Cup.
Kopitar joked that every team might as well be the Kings’ rivals but to the locals, the Northern vs. Southern rivalry will always be a marquee event.
“How many rivals do we have now? Phoenix, Ducks – everybody is a rival,” Kopitar said.
“For us, it’s a matter of focusing on the stuff that we’re doing and following the game plan. I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight.”