LOS ANGELES, California – It was emotional, exhilarating, chaotic and compelling.
After the Los Angeles Kings came all the way back to erase a 3-0 deficit and take a 4-3 lead late in the third period, Zach Bogosian brought the game back on level footing before Bryan Little scored the shootout winner as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champions 5-4 at Staples Center.
Mathieu Perreault, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler scored the others for the Jets, while Michael Hutchinson made 25 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping all four shooters in the shootout.
“It’s huge for our confidence,” Jets forward Adam Lowry said. “It’s no secret that we haven’t been happy with how we’ve played the last four or five games. To be able to win a game like this against a team we’re battling with, it gives us some confidence going into tomorrow against one of the league’s best teams.”
Evading the check of Kings defenceman Matt Greene down below the goal line, Michael Frolik then delivered a pass into the slot, where it was skilfully intercepted by the hot hand of Perreault, who made no mistake in chipping a shot up and over a sprawling Jonathan Quick for the opening score at 3:39.
Perreault now has 16 points in his last 17 games.
Just over a minute later, Little made it a 2-0 game as he split the Kings defence and graciously took a diagonal feed before poking a shot past Quick.
The offensive onslaught did not end there. Silencing the sold-out Staples Center six-and-a-half minutes in, the defending champs were stunned. With Marian Gaborik off serving a penalty, Wheeler – straddling the goal line – banked a centering pass off the skate of Trevor Lewis and in, putting the Jets up by three.
“That’s a game you like to be a part of, especially the first period,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “I’m not necessarily talking about the score, but the physicality of it, the intensity at ice level.
“It was fun.”
With Dustin Byfuglien and Jim Slater off serving separate infractions, the Kings had a glorious opportunity to get back in the game with an extended 5-on-3 advantage.
That they did.
Deftly depositing the rebound following Drew Doughty’s cannon-like point blast, Anze Kopitar made it a 3-1 game with his ninth of the year at 14:31. With time remaining in Slater’s delay of game penalty, a hard-charging Justin Williams shovelled the puck in amid a mad scramble in the goaltender’s grill.
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 10-7 after a hectic but highly entertaining 20 minutes of play.
The frenetic pace continued into the second, where the Kings came close to bringing the game back on even terms.
After the Jets fumbled the puck at the offensive blue line, Jeff Carter raced in on a shorthanded breakaway. His backhand-shelf attempt caught iron, while many in the building thought otherwise. After a quick video review, the call on the ice was upheld. No goal.
Hutchinson saw black in sights once more near the 11-minute mark, stoning Williams and his ill-fated backhand try with a brilliant right pad save.
“We showed that we’re just as resilient as they were tonight,” Hutchinson said. “It’s huge for us.”
The Kings tied it up at 1:29 of the third period as Gaborik pounced on a loose puck at the lip of the crease, roofing a shot past Hutchinson for the equalizer. Then, with 7:35 left in the third, Clifford potted the garbage on a broken play in the blue paint, giving the Kings a lead they would soon relinquish.
“We got caught a little bit standing still and allowed them to come at us with speed,” Lowry said. “In the last half of the third, we were able to generate some chances and we got back on the body. That’s our team’s identity – being hard on those guys down low and that’s how we were able to generate some chances.
Bogosian’s seeing-eye wrister less than two minutes after the go-ahead goal put the visitors back on even terms. From that point forward, it was all Jets.
Little scored the lone goal in the shootout, sealing a 5-4 final.
“I didn’t like parts of our second period, but it’s tough to win on the road and that’s a good one for a hockey club,” Maurice said.