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The goals came on the power play, at even strength and shorthanded. They came on plays from behind the net, from the slot and from nearly 175 feet away.
At a time of the year when a team in a playoff race has to do a little of everything in order to win, the Kings pieced together a strong effort, strong enough to earn two big points with a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night before 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
``We’re going have to scratch and claw for everything,'' Kings forward Wayne Simmonds said. ``Whether you get one point or two points, every one is valuable and we just have to come to play every night.''
Simmonds scored two goals, Drew Doughty scored the eventual game-winner early in the third period and the Kings shut out the Wild in the final 20 minutes. Anze Kopitar's long-bomb shorthanded empty-net goal clinched the victory in the last minute.
With 21 games still remaining in the regular season, there's no time for the Kings to take a breath, but they can at least take pride in the fact that things seem to be trending in the right direction for them in this ultra-tight Western Conference playoff race.
With Thursday's two points, the Kings moved into fifth place in the West. They're still only two points ahead of 10th-place Calgary, but the Kings are now 10-1-3 in their last 14 games and were able to win in their first home game in nearly a month.
``Every game means so much,'' Kings defenseman Jack Johnson said. ``We’re just trying to do our best to win all of our games. If we do that, we know then it doesn’t matter what else is going on. It’s pretty nice to have destiny in your own hands and not have to rely on other teams. That’s the last thing we want to happen is, at the end of the year, be watching hockey games and be hoping and praying for other teams to have a certain outcome. We just have to win our games and we don’t have to sweat it.''
The Kings had to keep their cool Wednesday after some wobbly moments. For the second consecutive night, they lost leads of 1-0 and 2-1, then scored a goal in the early part of the third period and a credible job on defense the rest of the way.
The game got tense late. With the Kings nursing a 3-2 lead, Ryan Smyth got called for tripping in the offensive zone. Minnesota pulled goalie Nicklas Backstrom with 1:27 remaining, for a 6-on-4 advantage, which led to a huge faceoff.
With the draw in the Kings' zone, Michal Handzus battled Matt Cullen and made it a 50-50 contest. Kopitar nudged his way into the play and found just enough space to get his stick on the puck and fire it, from the middle of the defensive-zone faceoff circles, into the opposing net. Kopitar's goal, with 1:14 remaining, clinched the win.
``It's one of those things where, after a draw like that, especially on the PK, everybody is in there looking for loose pucks,'' Kopitar said. ``I knew the net was empty, and I just kind of let it go and it worked out.''
Simmonds did his major work earlier, but it was certainly no less important.
Simmonds, who scored 16 goals last season, entered Thursday with nine goals in 58 games and without a goal in his previous 16 games. Simmonds broke that skid with a first-period power-play goal, then scored again in the second period.
Both of Simmonds' goals came on skilled wrist shots from the slot.
``Simmonds had a real good game, when you score two goals, and good goals,'' coach Terry Murray said. ``Power play, and I really liked the second goal, on the cycle. He was moving his feet, and that's the reason why he's been playing, in my opinion, really well in the last dozen games. He's doing the right things in the offensive zone, in deep. When he gets the puck on his stick, he's creating some separation, and now everything opens up to make some plays and to get some scoring chances.''
After each of Simmonds' goals, Minnesota came back to tie the game, on second-period goals by Eric Nystrom and Brent Burns. After that, though, Simmonds' housemate scored a big goal off one of the nicest offensive-zone rushes of the season.
Smyth's drop pass left the puck on the stick of Dustin Brown, who faked a shot at the top of the left circle, then fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Doughty, who smacked a shot past Backstrom to give the Kings a 3-2 lead, 4:39 into the third period.
It was a big game for the housemates and close friends, neither of whom, admittedly, has reached the level of scoring that was anticipated for them at the start of the season.
``I just haven’t been getting a lot of bounces,'' Simmonds said. ``I’ve been going to the net hard and tonight I just was getting bounces, trying to get my shots off quick, and as a result of that, I got two goals.''
Doughty added, ``It was obviously great for both of us there. It's not that we're frustrated with the way that our seasons are going, but we're pretty frustrated statistically. He obviously wishes he could have a few more goals and points, and same on my side. So we're really happy to contribute, but most importantly we're really happy with the two points.''
Four goals was enough for goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 25 saves and avenged an odd shutout loss to the Wild on Feb. 1, when Bernier didn't allow a goal in regulation or overtime but lost 1-0 in a shootout.
The Kings have now allowed two or fewer goals in 13 of their last 18 games, and face another big conference game when they host Colorado at STAPLES Center on Saturday.
``We've got some home games,'' Murray said. ``We're in a tight race to make the playoffs. The opportunity is there for us. We can control our own destiny, I think, with a strong homestand. So Colorado is a game that we've got to make sure we're focused, doing the right things. I talked to the players after the game here tonight. We just have to be a lot better than we were here tonight, in order to win games, as we get going here forward.''
The Kings took a 1-0 lead with 6:35 remaining in the first period Thursday, and with eight seconds remaining on the game's first power play. After a battle behind the Minnesota net, Simmonds picked up the puck in the slot and whipped a wrist shot past Backstrom. Johnson and Brown picked up assists.
The Kings had been 1-for-15 on the power play in their previous seven games.
Minnesota tied the game 4:03 into the second period. Nystrom worked the puck out of the corner, then battled two Kings defenders as he pushed the puck toward the net. Bernier went down to try to cover the puck, but Nystrom made a final lunge and pushed it between his pads to tie the game 1-1.
Simmonds' second goal of the game gave the Kings a 2-1 lead with 9:42 remaining in the second period. Simmonds went low to help keep the puck in the Kings' zone, then went to the top of the circles, took a pass from Kopitar and, with space, fired a high wrist shot that beat Backstrom. Marco Sturm also got an assist.
The Wild tied the game with five seconds remaining in the second period, on the power play. Off a faceoff win in the Kings' zone by Cullen, Burns beat Bernier with a shot through traffic from the top of the left circle to make it a 2-2 game.
Doughty gave the Kings a 3-2 lead 4:39 into the third period. Smyth carried the puck into the Minnesota zone and dropped a pass for Brown at the top of the left circle. Brown faked a shot, then hit Doughty with a perfect cross-ice pass, and Doughty fired in a shot to give the Kings the lead. Brown recorded his second assist of the game.
The Wild went on the power play with 1:59 remaining, then pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage, but Handzus won a faceoff in the Kings' zone. After a scramble, Kopitar momentarily got control of the puck and whipped a shot into the empty Minnesota net from the middle of the circles to give the Kings a 4-2 lead.
With that, the Kings were able to record another win, one night after they beat Anaheim.
``Back-to-back games are always tough,'' Doughty said, ``but me, personally, I always find the second one of the two a lot easier to play in, just because you have nothing to save it for. You can just kind of blow it out, and you don't have much to worry about. We played a great back-to-back game tonight. We were a little shaky at times, but we got two points and I guess that's all that matters.''