LOS ANGELES – Seldom does a play encapsulate both a hard-earned victory and a player's worth to his team as one made by Boston captain Zdeno Chara on Saturday night.
Chara slid down in the crease to make a save in the waning seconds to help goalie Tim Thomas protect a one-goal lead. Moments later his teammates hugged him after the Boston Bruins showed their championship mettle by completing a 4-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings.
The hugs were mostly ceremonial as Chara played his 1,000th game, but they came after the defending Stanley Cup champs showed L.A. how to scratch out a victory -- Boston scored two goals in a 79-second span of the third period, followed by a huge penalty kill that kept the Kings from tying the game.
"I think we really played desperate hockey," Chara said. "For the whole game we blocking shots and did a decent job killing penalties, and we scored some big goals so, for sure, it's a big win for us."
On a personal level Chara said, "I can't ask anything more than what the guys gave me tonight. I really appreciate it. It's a great group of guys. I'm really proud to be part of this team and this group. You can see that they battled really hard for me, and for everybody, but for this game especially."
Boston ended a four-game road losing streak – its longest since December 2009 – and ended L.A.'s season-high six-game winning streak. Los Angeles, which fell from third to seventh in the Western Conference earlier in the day, wound up in eighth place with 86 points. The Kings play their next four games on the road.
The Kings pulled to 3-2 with 5:14 remaining on Slava Voynov's rising shot from above the right circle, then got a power play with 4:03 when Jordan Caron was called for high sticking. But Boston killed off the penalty and held on before Brad Marchand hit the empty net just before the buzzer.
Thomas stopped 40 shots -- not including the save by Chara -- for his 32nd victory.
"Sometimes you need a little help, and tonight I got help from a 6-foot-9 giant," Thomas said.
"At the end of the game, five or six guys took off, towards the other end. I thought they were going to Marchie because it was an open-net goal and I was like, ‘What?' But then I remembered it was his 1,000th game. I was just too tired to go join that pack, but the first thing I did when I saw him was say, ‘Congratulations' on his 1,000th game, and hopefully this is one he'll remember."
Milan Lucic put Boston ahead to stay when he rifled a wrist shot through Jonathan Quick at 4:37 of the third period for a 2-1 lead. Chris Kelly made it 3-1 at 5:56 when Benoit Pouliot's pass glanced off his skate and into the net. Kelly's goal – his fourth in three games – was briefly reviewed and held up for the game-winner.
It was very much Boston's formula of physicality and grit combined with clutch play. The Bruins were credited with 27 hits to L.A.'s 32. Drew Doughty was the face of that bruising style when his mouth was bloodied by a hit from Dennis Seidenberg in the second period.
"It felt more like our game," Lucic said. "We kind of got back to how we played in that homestand against Philly and Toronto. It was great to even the Pacific road swing to 1-1. We really needed this one. It was desperate win, seeing that Ottawa won today. We got to keep this going, for sure."
The Kings had their hands full with the Bruins early in the second period as Boston spent extended stretches in L.A.'s zone until the pendulum swung. Jordan Nolan finally got it moving the other way and Doughty made up for an earlier giveaway. Doughty made a tape-tape cross ice pass to the left side to set up Colin Fraser, who snapped a shot past Thomas at 13:17 to tie the game 1-1.
Boston outshot L.A., 8-1, in the first six minutes of the second and took a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal by Patrice Bergeron.
With Brian Rolston in the box for holding, Doughty's pass to Anze Kopitar was intercepted by Marchand, who broke in on Quick. The goaltender made the initial stop, but Bergeron beat a defender to the loose puck and tapped it in at 5:18 to break a 13-game goal-scoring drought.
It was only the second shorthanded goal allowed this season by L.A., which lost despite outshooting the Bruins 42-26.
"Great team over there," defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "Stanley Cup champs. You expect that. Close game and you know obviously we made one more mistake than they did and lost the game."
L.A. outshot Boston 15-11 in an opening period in which neither team gave the other many quality chances. Dustin Brown hit the post and Matt Greene blocked Caron's shot in the slot during a Bruins power play.
The Kings allowed three or more goals for only the seventh time in 26 games. L.A. had won six straight at home and was trying to knock off St. Louis and Boston in consecutive home games.
"The team dug a hole on home ice early in the year and we've tried to win every game since then," coach Darryl Sutter said. "Simple, that's pretty clear, right? That's what we've tried to do and it's a tough task and it's a big chore."
Sutter did the unthinkable in the second period and broke up Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, putting Jarret Stoll in Richards' place on the second line to get him more faceoffs. It didn't matter so much as L.A.'s inability to break Boston's penalty kill late.
"A power play late in the game in a big game like that, we've got to find a way to have a power play like we did at the end of the second period," Brown said.
"It's a game of momentum and both teams had it tonight. We had, I think, some really good chances early in the third and Thomas made a big save on (Justin) Williams on the rebound. I think the next shift they scored a goal. Just a swing of momentum for them."
Boston forward Peverley missed his 19th straight game with a knee injury. He could return on Sunday at Anaheim.