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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Welcome to the final 10 weeks of the NHL season.
Many of the games in the season's stretch run figure to look a lot like the one the Kings played Tuesday night, a 1-0 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
Every loose puck will be contested. Every player in the corner will be hit. Every penalty, every off-target pass, will be a hold-your-breath moment. And if more of these games don't break the Kings' way, there won't be a second consecutive trip to the playoffs.
``We've got to win games,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said, ``but if we play like that on a consistent basis, we're going to get our share of regulation wins, I think.''
The Kings, to be certain, did nothing to embarrass themselves Tuesday. They created solid offensive chances, particularly in a sharp second period, got good play in goal from Jonathan Bernier and were one break away from two points, rather than one.
Minnesota got that break, though, when Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored the only goal of the three-round shootout, and Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom made three saves.
Perhaps both teams were due for a change in fortune. The Kings had been 5-0 in shootouts this season, while the Wild had been 0-4 (and had lost eight consecutive shootouts going back to last season).
``He made a nice move,'' Bernier said of Bouchard. ``I don't know if that's what he wanted to do at first. He kind of lost the puck. It can go either way. Obviously I'd like to get that one back.''
If anything, Backstrom's play was the deciding factor in the game. Coming off the five-day All-Star break, Backstrom showed no rust at all, and was particularly sharp with his glove as he made 27 saves in regulation in overtime, and one with his boot in the shootout.
With the shootout still scoreless in the second round, Kings defenseman Jack Johnson made a nice move and sent Backstrom flat on his stomach. As Johnson moved left and shot, Backstrom lifted his right skate, hopefully, and had the puck deflect off it.
So things went for the KIngs, who could rightfully keep their heads held high after a solid overall effort, but still must harbor some concern over their lack of offense.
``It was a good effort. In the first game back, after a break, I thought both teams were pretty focused and did the right things,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``Both teams are good checking teams. I really liked our play in the offensive zone. We were moving our feet, creating opportunities. We were pretty good at the front of the net, as far as traffic.
``I thought we could have been better in some of those looks, especially early. But we had good opportunities in the 5-on-5 look, and we just are not finding the back of the net.''
At the start of their stretch of 10 consecutive road games, the Kings played well enough to win, but didn't. They have totaled four regulation goals in their last three games, and nine regulation goals in their last seven games, and the break didn't give much of a boost.
It was another tough-luck loss for Bernier, who stopped all 25 shots he faced but couldn't win. In his last start, Bernier allowed two goals to Dallas but suffered a 2-1 loss.
``Both goalies made some very big stops,'' Murray said. ``Backstrom, I remember he made a save in the second period, off Kopitar coming down the slot. Bernier was very good there. There was a flurry coming at him, maybe the second half of that third period. He was good. They had some looks, coming down from the blue line, and he looked very sharp.''
It was also a missed opportunity for the Kings, who started the night tied in points (55) with Minnesota but technically one spot behind the Wild in the standings, given that the Wild have played one fewer game.
``We're neck-and-neck,'' Brown said. ``Everybody is trying to fight for the last few spots, and there are a lot of teams clustered up. From the fourth spot to the 12th spot, it's pretty close. I think we're going to see a lot of those games, where it's 1-0 or 1-1 going into overtime.''
Part of the lack of offensive success included the power play, as the Kings went 0-for-2 with the man advantage. The Kings changed up their power-play personnel a bit in the second period, putting Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson together on the points, and they had a good second-period power play but didn't score.
The Kings, coming off the break, looked solid in the first period and strong in the second period, when they recorded 13 of their 27 shots and outshot the Wild 13-7, but they weren't able to get one past Backstrom.
``We had a lot of offensive-zone time,'' Brown said. ``We were in their D zone for a lot of the game. Then it gets to a shootout, and a shootout is what it is. Backstrom makes a great save on Jack, and Bouchard makes a move and it ends up in our goal and that's it.''