DENVER – That loud exhale you might have heard Wednesday night likely came from Joe Sacco.
The Colorado Avalanche coach was breathing a huge sigh of relief after watching his team squander a two-goal lead in the third period before securing two critical points with a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings at the Pepsi Center.
"I don't know why a two-goal lead is so dangerous," Sacco said. "It's hard to play with a lead in this League. Teams come after you pretty good. But we got two points and we're pretty excited about that."
The victory ended a three-game losing skid and gave the seventh-place Avalanche 89 points, two more than eighth-place Detroit and six more than ninth-place Calgary in the race for Western Conference playoff berths.
"It wasn't the best way to do it, but we got two points," Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson said. "We want to keep the teams behind us behind us."
The Kings, who rallied from a 3-1 deficit with two power-play goals in the third period, picked up their 90th point and remained in fifth place.
"Obviously you want to win the game, but to finish it off like that … it took us a little longer than we anticipated, but we came back and that was a huge point for us," Kings forward Anze Kopitar said.
Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart scored shootout goals in the second and third rounds, respectively, against Kings goalie Erik Ersberg, who stopped Milan Hejduk in the opening round.
"I noticed Mueller beat him five-hole, so I just put it five-hole," said Stewart, who has scored three career shootout goals, all game winners.
Anderson made a save against Kopitar and was beaten by Jack Johnson before Ryan Smyth fired a shot off the crossbar that closed out the game.
"There was a little luck on my side there," Anderson said.
The Avalanche haven't had much luck killing penalties lately.
The Kings scored twice with the man advantage in the third period to tie the game. Drew Doughty connected 40 seconds in with a long wrist shot through a screen and Alexander Frolov sent the game to overtime with Ersberg on the bench for an extra attacker and 1:21 remaining.
The Avalanche have killed just seven of 16 penalties in the past four games.
"There's no question it has to be better," Sacco said. "We can't allow this many power-play goals. You have to give Los Angeles credit, too, but especially at this time of the year when the 5-on-5 play is so tight, special teams become more critical and we have to make sure the penalty killing gets better."
The Avalanche took advantage of a slew of Kings penalties in the first period to take a 3-1 lead.
After Colorado's Matt Hendricks and Kopitar exchanged goals, the Kings took five consecutive penalties, and the Avalanche scored on two of them.
Hejduk beat goalie Jonathan Quick to the short side with a one-timer from the left circle at 13:21 with Brad Richardson serving a double-minor for bloodying Scott Hannan's face with a high stick.
Hejduk's goal ended the Avalanche's 0-for-11 drought on power plays covering parts of four games and snapped the Kings' penalty-killing streak at 28 over parts of nine games.
The Kings killed off Sean O’Donnell's cross-checking penalty, but Paul Stastny scored at 18:08 after Fredrik Modin shot the puck over the glass to earn a delay-of-game infraction.
Stastny was at the side of the net when he banked the puck off Doughty into the net, prompting Kings coach Terry Murray to replace Quick, who faced 16 shots, with Ersberg.
"We picked up the game after the first period, so that helped me a lot," said Ersberg, who stopped all 14 shots he faced through overtime. "It was good to get away with at least one point."
The Kings dominated play in the final 25 minutes, outshooting the Avalanche 14-3 in the third period and 5-0 in the overtime.
"Five-on-5, I thought we didn't give up a whole lot," Kopitar said. "We got into penalty trouble and they buried two. But we said it, it was a two-goal game and one shot and you're right back in it."
Kings defenseman Matt Greene was scratched with what the team said is an upper-body injury. He was injured in the third period of Monday's game against the Avalanche on a hit by Darcy Tucker, who served a one-game suspension Wednesday for what the NHL called "excessive physical contact" on an icing play.
1 - 0 COL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 COL