SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Marian Gaborik was acquired by the Los Angeles Kings last season for one reason.
"I think we all understand what he was brought here to do and that is to score big goals and that is kind of what we expect of him," captain Dustin Brown said.
After delivering on that deal throughout the Kings' triumphant march to the Stanley Cup championship by scoring 14 goals in 26 games, Gaborik did what is expected of him again, in dramatic fashion, on another one of the sport's grandest stages.
This time, Gaborik scored the game-winning goal 4:04 into the third period in the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium, providing the Kings with a 2-1 victory against the rival San Jose Sharks before 70,205 spectators.
"Yeah, it's definitely special," Gaborik said of his goal, which blunted the momentum of the Sharks, who were starting to dominate play after a late first-period goal tied the game. "But it definitely feels good to get the goal."
Not only did Gaborik's goal, his third since Jan. 14, deliver a vital win against a fierce rival and extend the Kings' win streak to seven games, but it put Los Angeles back in the Stanley Cup Playoff picture, where they have been missing for long stretches this season. The Kings leapfrogged two teams, including the Sharks, in the tight Western Conference to go from out of the playoffs to third in the Pacific Division. The Sharks and the Calgary Flames also have 68 points, but have played more games than the Kings.
"The last seven games we played some good hockey," Gaborik said. "We played some Kings hockey like we know how to play, and we've been getting great goaltending. Throughout the team, everybody is contributing."
It was ironic to hear Gaborik talk about playing Kings hockey, because it is relatively new to him.
Upon his arrival from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Gaborik was considered to be an elite goal scorer, but he arrived in Los Angeles with the defensive liabilities that are organic in the games of many of the sport's best goal hounds. It was a marriage that would not work in a Kings system predicated upon taking care of the defensive-zone first and then looking for goals.
Something had to give, a compromise had to be reached. The Kings, specifically general manager Dean Lombardi, believed Gaborik would make the necessary changes and compromises. Lombardi believed the will to win would override the desire for individual glory.
The general manager was right.
"I had to adjust a little bit, to buy into the system, play on the right side of the puck, and make sure to play the game and do my responsibilities as well," Gaborik said.
He did it last season and his two-way game and his ability to deliver in the clutch were a key part of an amazing run to the Kings' second Stanley Cup title in three years. He revisited that formula Saturday on a perfect Northern California night for outdoor hockey, driving another stake into the hearts of Sharks fans the Kings have tormented for the past few seasons.
These teams met in the first round of the playoffs last season. The Sharks won the first three games but failed to get a fourth. The Kings won Game 4 to start a historic comeback. Gaborik had two goals in that series-turning victory. He had an assist in the decisive Game 7 and finished the series with three goals and two assists.
He broke a frustrating slump with a signature goal Saturday. This time, the Sharks did not suffer playoff elimination, but they do now sit outside the top eight in the West and have some serious work to do over the season's final 23 games.
"During the time he is not scoring big goals, we need him to play Kings hockey," Brown said. "Tonight he came through for us huge and I think it is the result of him playing pretty well."
Right Wing - LAK
GOALS: 17 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 33
SOG: 107 | +/-: 7
The goal Saturday, in fact, was the result of a defensive play.
San Jose defenseman Brent Burns had the puck in the neutral zone and Gaborik put him under pressure, forcing him into a bad decision that ended with a turnover.
"I was just trying to dump it in," Burns said. "I thought it deflected off their guy off the dump."
The puck did hit Kings forward Jeff Carter and bounce onto the stick of Gaborik. He skated into the zone and as he reached the top of the faceoff circle he let go a slap shot that beat Sharks goalie Antti Niemi to the far side.
"I've seen him beat goalies like that before," Kings center Anze Kopitar said.
The goal derived from the Kings' DNA. Gaborik was on the right side of the puck, he was taking care of his responsibilities and he effectively pressured the puck-handler before he could gain the attacking zone. His reward was a coveted turnover, which allowed him to do what he does best.
"I mean, he's an elite goal scorer," Brown said. "He's pretty quiet and then he has a goal like that. That's the kind of game-breaker he is."