LOS ANGELES -- The Kings were playing strong, the sold-out crowd was pumped and a second straight victory with more than three goals seemed just minutes away.
Then, with one stiff shoulder from Dallas captain Brenden Morrow, everything went south.
The Kings lost their two leading goal scorers on the same play, Anze Kopitar to injury and Mike Richards to a game misconduct for instigating a fight with Morrow, opening the door for the Stars to score the tying goal on the extended power play and eventually win in a shootout, 5-4, at Staples Center.
Here’s how quickly the night changed:
With 7 minutes 48 seconds remaining, Morrow leveled Kopitar behind the Kings goal, leaving the team’s leading scorer the last four seasons crumpled on his stomach against the boards. Richards decided to exact some revenge and dropped gloves with Morrow, drawing a two-minute instigator penalty, two additional minutes for instigating a fight while wearing a visor and a 10-minute game misconduct. Richards and Morrow also received five minutes each for fighting.
Midway through the ensuing four-minute power play, Dallas forward Loui Eriksson scored his second goal of the game to tie the score, 4-4. The game extended to overtime and then the shootout, where Kopitar has been a mainstay all season. Without him, all three Kings failed to score, while Eriksson converted one of two attempts by the Stars to steal the victory.
Afterward, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Kopitar sustained a bloody nose and he expected him to be OK, though he wasn’t in position to confirm his availability for the team’s next game Saturday night in Calgary.
“It’s a half hour after the game. I’m not the doctor and I’m not Kopi,” Sutter said. “He told me he was fine, so that’s what that means.”
Sutter said he had no problem with the hit by Morrow, nor the response by Richards.
“That’s what good teams do, right? You’d expect that out of Mike,” Sutter said.
The players also appreciated Richards coming to the defense of Kopitar.
“We’re a very tight team, everybody loves each other,” said right wing Justin Williams. “Everybody is going to stick up for each other and that was really good on his part. It’s a shame we didn’t kill [the penalty] off for him.”
In the other locker room, Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said he looked at a replay of Morrow’s hit and also did not see anything illegal.
“We watched it in slow motion there and we watched it again,” he said. “In my mind it was a clean hit but [Kopitar] fell very awkward … I don’t think anything will come of it, but that’s for the league to decide.”
The Kings lost Kopitar for the final six games last season because of an ankle injury and lost four of those games before getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by San Jose. With the team clinging to a playoff spot by one point in the Western Conference and still sitting last in the league in scoring, they can’t afford to lose Kopitar for an extended stretch.