DENVER – The Los Angeles Kings celebrated and revelled in Dustin Brown’s game-winning goal for just a few moments.
Then, the exultation was quickly quieted, that chapter of the season closed.
It was time to move on and prepare for the post-season, a place the Kings haven’t been since 2002.
Brown ensured the Kings head into the playoffs with a burst of momentum after scoring 1:31 into overtime for a 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.
Next up for the Kings will be the Vancouver Canucks in a first-round matchup in the Western Conference.
“It’s my first playoffs so I’m excited,” said Brown, whose team leapfrogged Nashville with the win to gain the sixth seed. “Vancouver’s been a good team all year. We’ll start focusing on what we need to do to beat them.”
As the eighth seed, the Avalanche draw San Jose in the opening series.
Not a bad turnaround considering Colorado occupied last place in the West a season ago.
But with new coach Joe Sacco in charge and a young nucleus, the Avalanche rebounded in a hurry.
And while the Avalanche will definitely be an underdog against the Sharks, it’s a role the team has come to relish.
“I think it’s almost easier to play that way,” Milan Hejduk said. “You go there and you play loose. The pressure is definitely on them. Sometimes, it’s not that easy to play with that kind of pressure.”
The Avalanche led this game most of the way after Ryan Stoa scored in the opening period.
But the Kings tied it up late in the third when Jarret Stoll redirected a shot past Craig Anderson.
In overtime, Brown tallied the game-winner as he poked in a shot off a rebound. It was his 24th goal of the season.
This kind of game has been par for the course lately for L.A. Entering Sunday, the Kings’ last four games had been decided by a shootout.
“You don’t want to go to the shootout or overtime,” Anze Kopitar said. “But that’s the way it is. Overall, it’s a great season, we should be proud of that. It’s a new chapter starting tomorrow and we’ve got to get ready.”
The Kings nearly won the game with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, only to have Anderson stop Alexander Frolov’s point-blank shot with his right pad at the last moment.
Prior to Stoll’s goal, the Kings’ best scoring chance came courtesy of a misplayed puck by Anderson in the opening period. The Avalanche goalie tried to clear it from behind the net, only to have Kopitar poke it away and nearly score.
Other than that, Anderson was solid all afternoon – all season really. Anderson set franchise records for starts, minutes played, shots faced and saves.
He’s been a big part of the Avalanche’s turnaround. Not very many experts picked the Avalanche to make the playoffs.
Yet here they are.
“Expectations weren’t high. People didn’t have a lot of expectations outside the organization,” Sacco said. “To have 95 points this year is pretty special, especially in this conference. This is a very demanding and very tough conference and our guys deserve a lot of credit for what they achieved this year.”
Kings goalie Erik Ersberg had 31 saves filling in for Jonathan Quick. He allowed Stoa’s shot to slip through his pads, but that was the only mistake Ersberg would make all day.
The Avalanche held out Matt Duchene (torso) and Peter Mueller (head), two of their biggest offensive threats in recent weeks.
Duchene was injured in a centre-ice collision against Edmonton on Wednesday. He played in the first period of Friday’s loss to Chicago, but left when the injury flared up again. The rookie of the year candidate was taken to the hospital as a precaution and later discharged.
Mueller has missed the last four games after taking a hit along the boards against San Jose. Mueller has accumulated 20 points since being acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline.
Asked about the chances of Mueller and Duchene returning for the post-season Sacco said, “I’m optimistic.”
NOTES: Kings D Drew Doughty earned his 43rd assist of the season by setting up Brown’s game-winner. … The Kings finished with 101 points. It’s the first time they’ve surpassed the 100-point mark since 1990-91.