There are moments during an 82-game season that can easily be picked out from the rest.
Wednesday night in Los Angeles was one of those moments for the Colorado Avalanche, which battled back from a deficit for a character win. Gabriel Landeskog tied the game twice and Nathan MacKinnon tallied the winner as the Avs defeated the Kings 4-3 to head into the All-Star Break on a high note.
"Coming back against a team like this shows a lot of character from our players," said head coach Patrick Roy. "It’s the third time in our last five games that we’re coming back after being behind after 40 minutes of play. It shows our players are being resilient. It was an important one for us."
Things were looking bleak early on for Colorado as Los Angeles outshot the visitors of Staples Centers 18-5 and held a 2-0 lead after the opening period.
The first 20 minutes looked eerily similar to the game the Avalanche played the day prior when it fell down 2-0 in the first frame at the San Jose Sharks and ended up losing 6-1.
Not wanting history to repeat itself for the second straight day, the Avs came out swinging in the middle frame. Matt Duchene scored 42 seconds in and Landeskog recorded his first of the night at 7:10 to knot the contest at two.
"We were pretty pissed off after the first," Duchene said. "I think a couple of us, including myself, spoke up and kind of ripped into the team. We knew we had to be better. We looked like little boys out there playing against men in the first. After that I thought we were the better team. Hell of a team effort."
Duchene's team-leading 23rd goal of the season was the burst of energy the Avs needed, but it wouldn't have been possible if not for the work of John Mitchell and Cody McLeod, who hemmed the Kings in their own zone and forced a turnover.
"It started with Mitchy and [McLeod] going in and having a great forecheck," Duchene said. "I got the puck with some time and space and was able to make a move, cut to the middle and let it go off my off wing."
Dwight King scored at 4:47 to return the Kings' lead going into the third period, but the Avalanche refused to be knocked down.
As Colorado's lone representative to this weekend's All-Star festivities in Nashville, Duchene, along with Tyson Barrie, helped set up Landeskog's tying goal on the power play with 12:22 left in the third period. MacKinnon scored the winner 3:03 later, just five seconds after L.A.'s Tyler Toffoli's holding penalty expired.
"This was an emotional one," Landeskog said. "Some games aren’t and some games are, and this was definitely an emotional one, especially coming off of a tough loss last night. We wanted to bounce back, and every time you go into a break like this, the last game you play is also fresh in everyone’s minds, and you want to build off of that and feel good about yourself during the break. We wanted to make sure that we played as good as we could."
The Avalanche, which is 6-2-0 in its last eight games, now heads into a four-day break in the first wild-card position in the Western Conference and sits one point ahead of the Nashville Predators, which won 2-1 in Calgary earlier in the evening.
Colorado has exactly 30 games left to keep climbing the standings and solidify its spot for the postseason.
There didn't seem to be any remaining effects Wednesday night of the illness that prevented Calvin Pickard from taking part in Tuesday's morning skate in San Jose.
Pickard was rock solid in his second game in as many days, and this time he was able to finish it as he made 35 saves while backstopping the Avalanche to the comeback victory over the Kings. He watched the third period on Tuesday from the bench.
The goalie helped the Avs stay within striking distances of L.A., despite the club being down 2-0 on the scoreboard. He faced 18 shots in the period.
"He was phenomenal in the first period," coach Roy said of his netminder. "Thank God he played that well. He gave up two goals. For someone watching the game, they say, ‘Oh two goals, that’s not that good,’ but with the chances they had, it was pretty solid."
Pickard's biggest save might have been at the very end of the night when he denied Anze Kopitar's slap shot from close range with 5.4 seconds remaining. The Avalanche was holding onto a one-goal advantage at the time.
"Picks was outstanding when we needed him," Duchene said. "What a save on Kopitar at the end."
Pickard also helped spark some of the Avs' offense, as his stretch pass to Duchene helped set up Landeskog's game-tying goal in the third period.
Mikhail Grigorenko returned to the Avalanche lineup after missing the previous game due to an illness. He replaced Alex Tanguay.
Grigorenko was one of three players that were sick on Tuesday, joining defenseman Erik Johnson and goaltender Calvin Pickard, but he was the only one that didn't dress for the contest at the San Jose Sharks.
The forward took Tanguay's spot on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene on Wednesday, and he assisted on MacKinnon's winning goal in the third period.
Defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk also dressed for the Avalanche after a one-game absence. He was paired with rookie Chris Bigras on the third defensive pairing, replacing Zach Redmond.
Nate Guenin was the other healthy scratch.