SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It was only two weeks ago that the Los Angeles Kings were stuck in a rut so deep that for the first time in what has been an inconsistent season, people were wondering out loud if last season's Stanley Cup champions would give themselves a chance to defend their title.
The Kings had lost three in a row and 12 of their previous 15 games (3-7-5). They were behind the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars in the Western Conference standings -- and none of those teams was in a Stanley Cup Playoff position.
They were also in a rut right around the 50-game mark last season, but they never fell out of playoff position. The Kings went 15-6-2 after the Olympic break.
"We never really panicked," defenseman Drew Doughty said.
Instead they did what they always do -- they turned it around, just as they did last season and just as they did in the 2011-12 season, when they finished as the eighth seed in the Western Conference but needed only 20 games to win their first Stanley Cup.
The Kings ride a six-game winning streak into the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game on Saturday at Levi's Stadium against the San Jose Sharks (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA2). They have, as defenseman Jake Muzzin said, started to beat teams by playing their style, one that's typically devoid of defensive zone turnovers and mental mistakes, issues that plagued the Kings earlier in the season.
"There were some games that we got beat, but there were some games that we really shot ourselves in the foot with bad turnovers, bad giveaways, you name it," center Anze Kopitar said. "Now it seems like we've been managing the puck a lot better and the goals against are cut down. That's where we want to go."
The Kings have allowed 11 goals in their six wins, but just four in their past three. They have scored 23 goals. Their power play is only 1-for-15, but they're even on special teams because their penalty kill is 12-for-13.
Goalie Jonathan Quick, who made 42 saves in a 4-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, has a .927 save percentage (12 goals allowed on 166 shots). His save percentage for the season is .912; it was .909 before the winning streak started.
In addition, the Kings have a red-hot line with Jeff Carter, Dwight King and Tyler Toffoli -- "That New 70s Line" -- contributing 26 points on 13 goals and 13 assists in the six games. King has a career-high five-game point streak.
"Things started to click," Kopitar said.
Part of that has to do with emotion.
Captain Dustin Brown complained after a 4-0 loss at the Washington Capitals on Feb. 4 that the team was lacking emotion, and that certain players who needed to bring it were not bringing it. Brown didn't name names, but he didn't have to. He could have named anybody and it would have been legitimate.
The Kings looked dead. They've since sprung to life in part because they are doing the right things and in part because they have raised their level of will and buy-in during games.
"I think we're playing more desperate," Doughty said. "That's definitely apparent so I guess our emotion has gone up, which is making a difference for us. We all care a lot. We all want to be winners. We all want to try to stay on top. I don't think we lose emotion, we just have to bring it out."
They still have to. The Kings have only gotten back in the race; they're not back in a playoff position just yet. They will be with a win on Saturday.
A lot can happen in two weeks.
"What I meant by emotion is if you have all the right Xs and Os and you don't have any emotion, it's hard to win," Brown said. "You need the Xs and Os and the smart play along with the emotion. I think both have gotten better. As a result we've found ways to win games, but we need to continue to win because we really haven't done a whole lot yet."