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ANAHEIM -- Regardless of the opponent, arena or time zone, the formula for success usually remains static for games late in the NHL’s regular season.
Score a third-period goal. Play good defense. Win a one-goal game.
The teams that can do that, more often than not, over the final two-and-a-half months of the season, will enjoy playoff hockey. Those that can’t will likely be sitting home come mid-April, wondering where it all went wrong.
For at least one night, the Kings followed the formula, as Willie Mitchell’s third-period goal held up as the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night before 17,174 at Honda Center.
Ryan Smyth and Anze Kopitar also had goals, and Justin Williams had two assists. With the win, the Kings ended their run of 10 consecutive road games with a 6-1-3 record and moved into sixth place in the Western Conference.
``That's 15 points out of 20. That's a nice road trip,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``It's important that we just keep our focus on how that happened. The hard work, the intensity, the concentration, to bring it every day and do things right.’’
For the Kings, Wednesday’s win was like the proverbial sausage. The product was enjoyable, even if the process was a bit messy and unsightly at times.
The Kings had a cover-your-eyes first 10 minutes, lost leads of 1-0 and 2-1 and needed a goal from a low-scoring defenseman -- it was Mitchell’s second goal of the season -- to hold off the Ducks, who played without star center Ryan Getzlaf.
Get used to it, though. Late-season games, particularly those between tight division rivals -- the Kings and Ducks entered the game tied with 68 points -- often are not aesthetically pleasing, and the Kings will happily take two points.
With another game right around the corner -- the Kings host Minnesota on Thursday night at STAPLES Center -- there are certainly parts of the victory over the Ducks that the Kings would like to see duplicated.
They rebounded from a slow start and played well in the second and third periods. They got a handful of critical saves from goalie Jonathan Quick (25 saves) and allowed the Ducks only one (unsuccessful) power-play chance.
Most impressively, though, the Kings locked things down after taking the lead. Mitchell’s goal, on a slap shot through traffic 6:45 into the third period, held up, as they held the Ducks to five shots over the game’s final 13 minutes, 15 seconds.
``I thought we maybe struggled for the first 10 or so minutes with that, and then after that we kind of locked it down,’’ defenseman Drew Doughty said. ``They had a few good opportunities in the second, but besides that I thought Quicker played really well, obviously, and came up with some big saves. I thought overall, defensively, our team did a good job of locking it down with that 3-2 lead.’’
The unlikely glory went to Mitchell, whose only previous goal this season had been a shorthanded goal in an Oct. 28 win over Dallas.
Williams made a nice play on the goal, as he held the puck near the high-slot area, then dropped a pass for Mitchell, who wound up and blasted a slap shot past Ducks goalie Curtis McElhinney. Williams also made a strong play on the Kings’ second goal, scored by Kopitar.
``It was just a great play by (Williams) to draw the guy in and kind of give me some time to shoot it,’’ Mitchell said. ``I was just trying to find the far side of the net, because there was a lot of traffic in front. Fortunate enough for us, it went in.'’
For the Kings, the game represented the end of 10 consecutive games on the road, and the start of a huge stretch of 23 final regular-season games, including four against the crosstown rival Ducks.
The Kings didn't record their first shot on goal until almost 11 minutes into the first period, but they took a 1-0 lead just over a minute later. Jack Johnson's point shot was saved, but Smyth, parked directly in front of McElhinney, got his stick free and batted the puck into the net from close range with 7:47 remaining in the period. Jarret Stoll also got an assist.
Following a season-long trend, the Kings allowed a goal shortly after scoring one, as the Ducks tied the game 1-1 with 6:28 remaining in the first period. After a scrum behind the Kings' net, Toni Lydman's shot was deflected past the screened Quick by Teemu Selanne to tie the game.
Shortly after they killed the game's first power play, the Kings took a 2-1 lead with 2:51 remaining in the first period. On a counter-attack, Williams took a wide-angle shot from the right side. McElhinney made the save, but as Kopitar went to the net, the rebound bounced in the crease. Ducks defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky was unable to play it, and Kopitar knocked in the puck. Quick also got an assist, his second of the season.
The Ducks tied the game with 9:55 remaining in the second period. After a scoring chance, Corey Perry pushed the puck out from behind the net, then went to the front of the net. Bobby Ryan sent the puck to the blue line, Luca Sbisa shot from the right point and Perry, in front of the net, deflected the puck past Quick to make it a 2-2 game.
Mitchell gave the Kings a 3-2 lead 6:45 into the third period. Williams dropped a short pass for Mitchell, who picked up the puck at the top of the left circle, wound up and scored on a slap shot through traffic. Trevor Lewis also got an assist.
``It was huge,’’ Doughty said. ``I guess you could say (Mitchell is) more of a defensive defenseman, but he has a big shot. When he gets it off, and when he has the time and space to let it go, I don't think too many goalies are going to stop it. It's that hard. He played a good game today, overall, and it was a huge win for us.''