LOS ANGELES – When they weren’t hurting themselves by taking unnecessary penalties and creating 5-on-3 power plays for the Dallas Stars, the Los Angeles Kings were playing sound hockey that paid off in the end.
Patrick O’Sullivan scored the deciding goal in a shootout, Alexander Frolov and Derek Armstrong scored 67 seconds apart in the first period, and the Kings beat the Stars 4-3 on Saturday.
“When we know we have to be at our best, we have the ability to raise our game to that level,” Kings coach Marc Crawford said. “I thought the guys dug in their heels and worked hard to a man. They showed a lot of backbone tonight. We’re going to continue to keep striving to eliminate our mistakes, but we’ll never accept not having a strong work ethic.”
Anze Kopitar also scored and Jason LaBarbera made 23 saves for the Kings, who evened the season series at three games apiece after losing all eight meetings in 2006-07. The Stars visited Staples Center for the first time since their third-period collapse on Nov. 10, when goaltender Marty Turco blew a 4-0 lead and lost 6-5 in overtime.
Jeff Halpern and Matt Niskanen scored during two-man advantages in the first and third periods and Loui Eriksson also found the net for the Stars, who have lost six of their last eight games. They played without defenceman Sergei Zubov, who sat out with a bruised foot two games after getting hit by a shot at Chicago.
“It’s all about the things that are easily controllable,” Turco said. “We need to step it up defensively and work hard and avoid the simple mistakes that we’re making.”
A delayed penalty was called against Kings rookie Jack Johnson for high-sticking Mike Ribeiro, but play wasn’t stopped until teammate Jeff Giuliano was sent off for hooking Brenden Morrow at 1:23 of the first. That gave the Stars a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes, and they capitalized with three seconds left on the power play when Halpern converted Eriksson’s pass through the crease.
“We were pretty frustrated with the 5-on-3 for two minutes. It’s tough to start the game like that,” O’Sullivan said. “We took a few too many penalties. But even though we were down, we felt confident because we knew how we had to play against this team. We’d beaten then twice before in our building, so we just tried to stick with our game plan.”
Eriksson gave Dallas a 2-0 margin just 16 seconds later. He got his own rebound after LaBarbera stopped his 10 foot wrist shot and circled the net with the puck before backhanding his fifth goal inside the left post on a wraparound. But the Kings goalie kept his composure and stopped 18 of Dallas’ final 19 shots.
“The biggest thing is staying positive,” LaBarbera said. “When you get down two goals, before I would be negative. And you can’t play that way. The rest of the game I tried to stay upbeat, not worry about what the score was, and just focus on the rest of the game and helping the team win.”
Turco stopped Kings goal-scoring leader Dustin Brown on a short-handed breakaway with 14:40 left in regulation after Brown stole the puck from Mike Modano just inside the Los Angeles blue-line, and the Stars got the equalizer about two minutes later after the Kings were called for their third minor penalty in a 2:44 span.
Niskanen redirected Modano’s one-timer past LaBarbera with 12:37 left in regulation and 19 seconds left on a 5-on-3 power play. Rob Blake was in the box for cross-checking, and Brad Stuart for delay of game.
Dallas came in with an NHL-best 88.1 percentage on the penalty kill against a Los Angeles power play that had the league’s fourth-best conversion percentage (20.5). The Kings scored the first time they had the man advantage. Kopitar redirected Blake’s long slap shot for a 3-2 lead at 14:15 of the second period while Morrow was off for interference against Blake.
Notes: Stars D Mattias Norstrom, who was Los Angeles’ captain for six seasons before he was traded to Dallas on Feb. 27, 2007, returned to Staples Center on the same day Blake tied his record for most games played by a Kings defenceman (780). Blake, in his second stint with the team, had previously held that record before Norstrom broke it on Nov. 26, 2005. … The Kings finished their longest homestand of the season 3-3. They will play 11 of their next 13 on the road, including eight straight. … The Stars are 3-for-39 on the power play over their last nine games. Their penalty-killing unit has allowed just three goals in 47 short-handed situations over the last 12 contests. … Dallas has scored seven goals this season when getting a two-man advantage. The Kings have allowed six goals in those situations.