One bad line change, one well-placed rebound and one opportunistic, hard-charging forward.
That was the game-changing play between the Kings and the Red Wings on Saturday night at Staples Center. Tomas Tatar of Slovakia scored the game-winner in the third period with 7 minutes 54 seconds to play, giving the injury-depleted Red Wings a 3-1 victory over the Kings.
The breakdown came even before Kings goalie Jonathan Quick kicked the rebound of a Riley Sheahan shot right onto the stick of the on-rushing Tatar.
Tatar, who had set up Sheahan's first-period goal, celebrated the moment with extra emotion, pointing to the sky, honoring his father, who passed away recently. It was his 10th goal of the season.
Detroit continued its relentless pressure and the Kings had trouble gaining possession, leading to the Red Wings' third goal, by Danny Cleary, beating Quick with 2:34 remaining.
The two third-period goals came in a three-shot span for the Red Wings.
It had been a tight game until Tatar's moment. The teams traded goals in the first period with the Kings going ahead when they capitalized on a five-on-three advantage with defenseman Drew Doughty's one–timer at 14:10.
Detroit equalized with 2:49 remaining in the first as the rookie Sheahan scored his first NHL goal, but Tatar did the heavy lifting, getting past Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr along the right-wing boards and fighting off Mike Richards.
For the Red Wings, it was an impressive display, considering their injury list looked more like the NFL injury update.
Out with injuries, among others, for the Red Wings were Daniel Alfredsson, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. Alfredsson was a surprise scratch with back spasms.
As if the Red Wings didn't have enough injury-woes, they got some more bad news after the game.
Starting goalie Jimmy Howard, who faced 45 shots, hurt his hip flexor, according to Detroit Coach Mike Babcock. Backup goalie, youngster Petr Mrazek, who has three career wins, will start against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
The Kings have won three of their last 10 games and their lack of scoring has been a continuing theme.
Richards, for one, is mired in a goal-scoring drought, having gone 21 games without one, the second-longest spell since he joined the Kings in the 2011-12 season. He had an assist in Thursday's 4-2 win over Boston, his first point in four games, and also assisted on Doughty's first-period goal Saturday.
Richards had vowed to veer away from his pass-first mentality.
"I've just got to start getting back to shooting first and looking for second options later," Richards said after the morning skate. "So the biggest thing is the thought process, when you start getting looks toward the nets, shoot more and look for passes second.
"I feel I know where he [Tyler Toffoli] is for the most part. Matt [Frattin] is working hard and we're getting opportunities. We're looking for each other a bit little too much right now where we just have to get the puck to the net and try to create scrambles."
Richards made a concerted effort to fire away. He had five shots through the first two periods and finished with eight overall.
"I don't use it very often, but I have a decent shot," Richards said. "I just have to get back to trying to shoot more."
The Kings' scratches remained the same: defenseman Matt Greene, who has been a healthy scratch for the last four games; forward Jordan Nolan, out for the last two; and left wing Tanner Pearson.
The Kings are off until Monday when they face the Vancouver Canucks.
"You've got to finish your chances," said Kings forward Justin Williams. "You can't win every game, 1-0, 2-1. We certainly had enough chances to win the game tonight. We didn't do it. The onus is on us to put the puck in the back of the net."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter was asked about the long scoring drought of Richards.
"He played a good game tonight," Sutter said. "It was probably the game with the most opportunities that he's had in 21 games. He's not the only guy. If you want to condemn Mike Richards, there are several players....There's expectations on the group of offensive players to score, not just one."