LOS ANGELES -- Measured only by amount of games, the NHL season is still in the infant stages, not quite crawling but certainly not walking with confidence and grace.
But this year being the stunted schedule of a lockout-shortened season, things aren't quite what they seem. The reality is the NHL is approaching the halfway point, meaning games grow more important and implications begin to mount.
And that made the Los Angeles Kings' game against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday at Staples Center an intriguing Western Conference treat, both clubs rising from sluggish starts to position themselves for playoff runs.
Coming into the game, the Red Wings were in playoff position as the eighth seed while the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings sat 10th.
That all changed -- rather quickly thanks to some late-game heroics -- as the Kings beat Detroit 2-1 for their season-high fifth straight win, two much-needed points and a springboard to leap ahead of the Red Wings all the way to fifth place in the standings.
"I think we've felt that sense of urgency from the very first game," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "Right now, we're in the playoffs. But things change every day it seems."
The game-winner went to Anze Kopitar, who beat Jimmy Howard with a nifty move and wrist shot directly in front of the net to put the Kings ahead 2-1 with 4:48 remaining.
The Red Wings inexplicably left Kopitar unchecked during a scrum along the glass, and he was perfectly positioned to make them pay in front of Howard.
"You can't leave Kopitar all alone," Detroit's Daniel Cleary said.
But they did.
"I just wanted to make sure I was loose in case those guys got the puck," Kopitar said. "I wanted to be in decent position in case the puck came out. I was alone with their goalie, and I was able to put it in."
The Kings got the equalizer on Jeff Carter's 11th goal of the year, with 9:34 to play. It came on a two-man advantage after Kyle Quincey was called for roughing and Pavel Datsyuk was docked two minutes on a delaying-game faceoff violation.
Datsyuk's penalty was the backbreaker, resulting in the Kings' third two-man advantage power play and Carter's tying goal.
"You get three five-on-threes, and obviously they have talented players," Cleary said. "We did a good job (on the first two), but (on Carter's goal) they just got the deflection."
The Red Wings struck first in the opening period, getting an unassisted goal from Quincey at the 9:42 mark.
It was a strange goal, to say the least, ricocheting off the back Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier's head and into the net.
"I'm not even sure what happened there," said Bernier, who notched his career-high fourth straight win. "I guess it went off the back of my head."
After taking the 1-0 lead, Detroit flirted with danger throughout the second period -- but lived to tell about it.
Twice the Kings had two-man advantages, pummeling Howard with six shots on the two power plays.
But they ended up with nothing to show for it, and the Red Wings escaped the period unscathed despite 13 Kings shots on goal.
But then came the third period, when the Kings played with a sense of desperation and capitalized on Datsyuk's mistake and Kopitar's magic in front of the net.
NOTES: It's not hard to figure out how the Kings won a season-high four straight games and six out of their last seven going into Wednesday's game against Detroit. The Stanley Cup champions have struck a perfect balance between offense and defense, outscoring opponents 15-5 on their four-game win streak and 23-10 over the last seven. Meanwhile, stars Dustin Brown, Carter and Kopitar have got untracked, with Brown scoring goals in three straight games, Carter finding the net in four straight and six out of the last seven and Kopitar notching 15 points over the last 14 games. ... With Detroit defensemen Brendan Smith and Quincey returning from injury Wednesday, Ian White was the odd man out as a healthy scratch, and that wasn't received well by White, who told reporters at the morning skate he was "taken aback" by the decision. Kent Huskins was also scratched against the Kings. ... The Red Wings have been a recent Kings nemesis, winning four of the last five meetings since 2011.