LOS ANGELES – Technically speaking it will go down as a three-point game. But there was nothing technical about a tight West versus East matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings.
It was hard-fought with big momentum swings at the end, and Chris Kunitz provided the emotional aspect with the game-tying goal and game-winning shootout goal to cap an impress comeback for a 3-2 Pittsburgh victory on Saturday night at Staples Center.
Kunitz scored with 2:57 remaining in regulation and beat Jonathan Quick in the fourth round of the shootout as the Penguins snapped a two-game winless streak.
Pittsburgh lost a shootout game to San Jose on Thursday, so Saturday was an impressive reversal of fortune and sends the Penguins off on a five-day break content.
"After our letdown in San Jose and letting them get back into the game, it was nice to do it to someone else," Kunitz said. "But to get three out of four points on two really good West Coast teams is satisfying. It's nice to get home and get a break here."
Down 2-1, Pittsburgh found life in an errant puck behind the net. Jordan Staal poked it to Kunitz and Kunitz lifted home a backhand near the goal line with 2:57 to go to stun the home crowd.
"We had a great forecheck. I was trying to make a play," Kunitz said. "He batted it back to me and the goalie just got lost down there."
The Kings appeared headed for victory when Simon Gagne finished off a hard-working sequence by the Kings that started when Justin Williams won a puck battle near the boards and got it to Anze Kopitar, who fed Gagne on the right side through an outstretched Marc-Andre Fleury.
Both teams had near misses late in the third.
The Kings had a goal waved off because of a high stick and Kris Letang hit the post with 30 seconds to go in regulation.
Mike Richards missed a potential game-winning penalty shot attempt at 9:30 after Letang pulled him down on a breakaway. Richards shot wide left on the attempt.
It was that kind of a tight game that was controlled nicely by Quick and Fleury, who both could not be faulted much on the goals they allowed.
Quick stopped 31 of 33 shots in regulation and Fleury stopped 24 of 26 shots. Fleury stopped three of four attempts in the shootout, including a stop on Gagne to set up Kunitz for the win.
"It was pretty exciting," Fleury said. "Every little play matters, and it can go either side."
The Kings took back control with a strong second period and tied it at 1 on a pretty breakaway play off a Pittsburgh turnover.
Richard Park sent a pass through the middle taken by Matt Greene and forwarded to Justin Williams, who fed a streaking Kopitar for a top shelf backhand over Fleury at 13:34. The goal was the first at home by the Kings in more than two games dating to the third period of the Oct.22 game against Dallas.
The Kings have scored six goals in four straight losses. Saturday night was seen as a step in the right direction even though it could be viewed as a point lost.
"Anytime you give up a goal it is unfortunate, especially late in the game," Kopitar said. "There's nothing you can do but fight on and go after it again. I think we played really good."
That the Kings forged a tie going into the third was remarkable given their incredibly undisciplined play in the first period that wasn't fully exploited by the Penguins.
Pittsburgh couldn't score on a nearly two-minute five-on-three advantage in the first that came courtesy of a parade to the penalty box by Los Angeles.
Willie Mitchell, Ethan Moreau and Rob Scuderi took minors within a 94-second span but grinding work by the Kings' penalty killing unit and a stray bounce or two prevented Pittsburgh from scoring with two extra men.
"We did a great job on the penalty kill," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "I know we gave up one. But the attitude was tremendous to get in those lanes and block shots, and just to really dig in. The pace of the game picked up. The compete level got real heavy. Our dot-to-board game was as good as it's been all year, and I like that."
However, the Penguins did break through on a 5-on-4 power play at 18:45 with Scuderi in the box when Steve Sullivan scored his first of the season, beating Quick with a bad-angled shot from the right side.
Letang made the play happen when he deked past a shot-blocking attempt by Kopitar and slid a pass to Sullivan near the goal line.
Kunitz was boarded by Moreau in a dangerous looking play in the first period. Asked if the League might take a look at it, Kunitz said, "I was catching the puck and I just put my hands down. Usually I have my hands up. I think he pushed me a little high. I didn't get hurt or anything."
Pittsburgh had 7:41 minutes worth of power play time and went 1-for-5 in the first period alone.
Staal returned to Pittsburgh's lineup while the Penguins unveiled two new faces on the back end of its defense after Matt Niskanen was a surprise scratch. Alexandre Picard made his Pittsburgh debut and played on the power play while Robert Bortuzzo made his NHL debut.
1 - 0 PIT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 LAK