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|2-12-11 LA Kings Locker Room - Sat, 12 Feb 2011|
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Anze Kopitar sat at his locker stall and flashed a sheepish grin as reporters entered the room. Kopitar knew where the tape recorders were headed.
A day earlier, in the same spot, Kopitar had faced some pointed questions about his recent lack of production, most notably the one goal he had scored in his previous 20 games. Saturday afternoon, the relief was evident on Kopitar's face.
Kopitar scored a second-period goal and played a solid game as the Kings trailed early but scored four consecutive goals and beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Saturday afternoon before 18,398 at Verizon Center.
``It's always nice to get a goal, but most importantly, just to get the win,'' Kopitar said. ``I thought it was a really good effort. We've had maybe not the best histories with the afternoon games, so to accomplish what we did today, it was huge, and now we've got to build on it and carry it over to tomorrow.''
At practice the day before, the Kings shuffled their line combinations, and coach Terry Murray made no attempt to hide the fact that the changes were designed, almost entirely, to get more production out of Kopitar, At least for one game, it worked.
Kopitar also assisted on Michal Handzus' third-period goal, but the relief-inducing moment came in the second period, when Kopitar went to the net, found a loose puck in the crease and lifted it over Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov to tie the game 1-1.
Kopitar, it was pointed out, had not forgotten how to celebrate a goal.
``My shoulders got a little rusty, because I haven't had my arms in the air for a while now,'' Kopitar said. But I'm ready to get that rust off and score a little bit more.''
That would be excellent news for the Kings who, despite some recent inconsistent play, continue to get points. They're now 6-0-2 in their last eight games and, even though they're still on the outside looking in, in the playoff race, they're at least keeping pace.
They're also doing it on the road. The Kings are halfway through their run of 10 straight road games and have claimed eight out of a possible 10 points, with games against the Flyers (tomorrow afternoon), Blue Jackets, Rangers, Islanders and Ducks remaining.
``It's a big two points for us,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said, ``to come into this building, against a great hockey club and play a pretty solid defensive game, first of all, and then to be able to score some goals, which have been hard to find for us recently. To be able to do that is a good thing, and now we've got to do it all over again in Philadelphia.''
Based on the first two minutes of the game, the Kings looked like they might be in for a long afternoon. Washington's Alexander Ovechkin forced a neutral-zone turnover then scored on the game's first shot, 1:06 into the first period.
From there, though, the Kings did a solid job. They had only four shots on goal in a first period that lacked a bit of energy, but started to turn things on in the second period, when they tied the game on Kopitar's goal and outshot the Capitals by a 15-7 margin.
The Kings then scored three third-period goals on nine shots, and got some balance.
The Kings' new-look lines had Kopitar centering Handzus and Wayne Simmonds, and had Loktionov centering Kyle Clifford and Dustin Brown. Stoll's line, with Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams, remained intact, and all three of those lines scored at least one goal.
Loktionov gave the Kings a 2-1 lead 3:36 into the third period, Handzus scored at the 12:28 mark and Stoll scored at the 13:56 mark as the Kings cruised late. Handzus also had one assist and Wayne Simmonds had two assists.
``I can't take credit for anything like that,'' Murray said of the offensive balance. ``It worked. When you're around the game and things go off-page a bit, on the offensive part of things, for lines and for players, a change is a good thing. They get refocused and come out and, sometimes, you get a good result like tonight.''
An,d for once, Bernier got some support. Bernier had been 1-1-1 in his three previous starts, even though he didn't allow more than two goals in any of those games. He was coming off a 2-1 loss to Dallas on Jan. 17 and a 1-0 shootout loss to Minnesota on Feb. 1. Overall, Bernier has allowed only five goals in his last four games.
It seems that not everyone in Washington had been paying attention, though.
During a presume, talking-head segment on the scoreboard, a Washington analyst stated, casually and matter-of-factly, that the Capitals had ``caught a break'' because the Kings would start Bernier in goal and would ``save'' Jonathan Quick for Philadelphia.
Not so fast. Bernier got beat by Ovechkin's wicked wrist shot early, but then didn't allow anything else and helped kill all four Washington power plays with relative ease.
``Obviously, I think the team played one of our best hockey games, for sure,'' Bernier said.`` I think guys were really willing to pay the price, coming back hard to our zone, and that makes a huge difference for a goalie, that's for sure.''
The biggest adversity faced by Bernier and the Kings came early, in the second minute.
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell attempted a blue-line pass to Drew Doughty in the Washington zone, but Ovechkin provided pressure and forced the puck away. Ovechkin carried the puck, with speed, into the Kings' zone and whipped a wrist shot from the top of the left circle. The shot beat Bernier to give Washington a 1-0 lead 1:06 into the game.
``It was a strong play by Ovechkin on that first rush, there's no doubt,'' Murray said. ``I think that got the focus of Doughty. I thought Doughty was outstanding after that goal against. He became a man with a real attitude. He was asked to go out and take the challenge on. But the team, in general, played steady, played strong.''
Ovechkin had only one shot on goal for the rest of the game.
The Kings started the second period with eight shots on goal in the first five minutes, and then got rewarded for their work with 9:19 remaining in the period.
Kopitar took a short pass from Handzus in the slot and pushed the puck to the goal line, to Simmonds. Simmonds took the puck to the net and couldn't get a clean shot off, but with Varlamov sitting on the ice, Kopitar picked up the loose puck in front and roofed a wrist shot to tie the game 1-1.
``That was a strong play,'' Murray said. ``A great play by Simmer, just to take it hard to the net. Those are the kinds of goals that are going to be there in the last half of the year. You've got to take it hard.
``You've got to look for ugly plays and rebounds and loose pucks, and it was great for Kopi to get that first goal. I thought he was very strong here tonight. He was with the puck and carried it with authority, made some good plays, had a real strong game.''
The Kings took their first lead of the game 3:36 into the third period. Clifford took a pass from Matt Greene at the offensive blue line and had a clear path to the net. His wrist shot was saved by Varlamov, but Loktionov alertly went to the net as well and knocked in the rebound from the left side to give the Kings a 2-1 lead.
The Kings took a two-goal lead with 7:32 remaining in the third period. Simmonds made a nice move in the right circle, carrying the puck around Washington's Jeff Schultz, and took it to the net. Simmonds didn't get off a clean shot, but in the ensuing scramble, the puck got behind Varlamov and Handzus, stationed to the left of the net, poked it over the line to give the Kings a 2-1 lead.
Stoll's goal, just 1:28 after Handzus' goal, gave the Kings a three-goal lead. Williams took a pass from Smyth in the neutral zone and started a 2-on-1 with Stoll. Williams' cross-ice pass landed perfectly on Stoll's stick, and Stoll one-timed a shot past Varlamov to give the Kings a 4-1 lead with 6:04 remaining.
Bernier made it hold up the rest of the way.
``Bernie bounced back big for us,'' Kopitar said. ``It is what it is. He proved that he is tough. It wasn't the best start to the game, but he hung in there and he was solid for us.''