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|I'll Give, You Go - Fri, 11 Mar 2011|
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|Anze Kopitar Hat Trick - 3/11 - Fri, 11 Mar 2011|
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COLUMBUS -- For parts of this season, Anze Kopitar faced questions. Why didn't he score more? Why didn't he shoot more? Of late, Kopitar has been answering on the ice.
Continuing a stretch of recent strong, highly productive play, Kopitar recorded his second career hat trick, as he scored the Kings' first three goals on their way to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night before 15,605 at Nationwide Arena.
``It's definitely not easy playing against them, because they have a good team and everything,'' Kopitar said. ``Some nights are better than others.''
Kopitar now leads the Kings with 24 goals this season, and his scoring pace has been torrid of late, as he has seven goals and seven assists in his last nine games.
That stands in sharp contrast to a 25-game stretch, from mid-December until early February, when Kopitar totaled only two goals. What turned things around? Who knows? Goal-scoring success is often fickle, but Kopitar is on the right side of fortune these days.
As it turns out, the Kings needed every bit of Kopitar's offense. They took a 3-1 lead into the third period, but things got nervous when the Blue Jackets -- fighting for their playoff lives -- scored with 8:30 remaining in the third period to make it a one-goal game.
In hang-on-tight mode after that, the Kings narrowly averted a tie game a couple times, then were able to exhale when Justin Williams scored, after a nice 2-on-1 break with Dustin Penner, with 1:34 remaining. Williams also had two assists in the game.
Drew Doughty also had two assists -- and survived another scary hit to the face -- and Jonathan Bernier gave up an early soft goal but was solid after that, with 32 saves, but Kopitar figured most prominently as the Kings improved to 6-2-1 in their last nine games.
Kopitar was coming off what was arguably one of his strongest games of the season, in Wednesday's victory over Detroit. Kopitar scored a goal, but the score sheet couldn't properly indicate the excellent defensive work Kopitar also did against the Red Wings.
``Kopi had a very strong game, to follow up a real good game at Detroit,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``I really liked his strength with the puck, carrying the puck behind the net on that (second) goal. Under pressure, he gets it back up top and drives to the net, looking for good things to happen. Overall, very strong, a very, very good game.''
Perhaps Friday's hat trick served as some sort of karmic reward. Kopitar scored 8:08 into the first period, on a power-play goal after a nice pass from Jack Johnson in tight quarters. Kopitar's second goal came with 4:48 remaining in the first period, when he tipped in a point shot from Doughty. The third goal was the highlight goal.
The Kings had just completed a penalty kill -- on Kopitar's hooking penalty -- when Dustin Brown controlled the puck momentarily and, with his back to center ice, flipped the puck away. Kopitar came out of the penalty box and skated directly onto the puck, then skated in alone and made a nifty deke move to beat Columbus goalie Steve Mason.
``Lately, I haven't been real successful in the shootouts, so that crossed my mind a little bit,'' Kopitar said with a grin. ``I went in pretty confident. I just tried to stick to my move. I knew what I was going to do. I've beaten him on that move, so I guess it was a good move, but just getting in there and getting that breakaway out of the box, it felt pretty nice.''
Kopitar's previous hat trick came early last season, in an Oct. 22, 2009 home game against the Dallas Stars, but given the circumstances, this one was far more significant.
The Kings remain stuck in a logjam of eight teams battling for five playoff spots in the Western Conference with less than a month in the season, so clearly every point is critical. Nobody had to tell that to the Blue Jackets either, given that they entered Friday's game in 12th place, eight points behind the eighth-place Kings.
The game had the feel of an ``elimination game'' for the Blue Jackets, but the Kings never trailed, won the special-teams battle -- they're now 17-for-17 on the penalty kill in their last five games -- and, for the most part, played with poise in a hectic third period.
``We knew it was pretty dire for them, certainly,'' Williams said. ``But at the same time, we look at the standings. We know where we are. We know how important every game is. It doesn't matter who we play. It was great, getting a great start to this road trip, two straight, and now we're going to look to get three and sweep the road trip. It was a great start for us and a huge win, obviously. They're all going to be like that, from here on out.''
The Kings also survived another nervous moment related to Doughty. Wednesday at Detroit, Doughty -- who suffered a concussion early this season -- had to leave the game briefly after getting smashed in the nose by Todd Bertuzzi's elbow.
This time, early in the third period, Doughty got bumped by Columbus' RJ Umberger near the Blue Jackets' bench. Doughty lurched over the bench and then, when he turned, smacked nose-first into the padded ``turnbuckle'' at the end of the bench.
Umberger's hit was nowhere near dirty, but Doughty stayed on the ice, flat on his stomach, for a couple minutes before he slowly skated off the ice and to the locker room. Doughty returned after missing less than two minutes of game time.
``I'm fine,'' Doughty said. ``Obviously I was back out there again, so I'm fine. I just got it right on the nose again. There was a little bit of blood, but nothing drastic. I didn't see the turnbuckle there. I kind of had my head down, making the play, and I ran right into it. But I'm fine, and he obviously didn't mean to do it. … I missed a couple shifts, just to come in here [the locker room] and make sure i was symptom-free, but everything was fine.''
The Kings won the season series against Columbus with a 3-1-0 record.
The Kings took the lead, 8:08 into the first period and 44 seconds into the game's first power play. Johnson shot from the middle of the right faceoff circle, after a cross-ice pass from Williams Mason made the save, but the rebound came back to Johnson, who made a quick, short pass to Kopitar in front for a tap-in goal.
``I was standing there and I was actually hoping Jack was going to pass it to me, and obviously he did,'' Kopitar said. ``I just re-directed it.''
Columbus tied the game with 8:12 remaining in the first period, on a counterattack. Scottie Upshall took the puck wide and shot from the edge of the right faceoff circle. Bernier was square to the shot and made a stop, but the puck got through him and crossed the line to tie the game 1-1.
``That's one of those goals I've got to have, obviously,'' Bernier said, ``but we kept to our game plan and kept playing the same way, and we buried our chances.''
The Kings got the lead back with 4:48 remaining in the first period. Doughty's slap shot from the right point was deflected in front by Kopitar, past Mason, to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. Williams picked up his second assist of the period.
Kopitar completed a hat trick with a goal with 8:47 remaining in the second period. Kopitar had just finished serving a hooking penalty when Brown sent a blind pass out of the Kings' zone. It found Kopitar near center ice, and he skated in alone and tucked the puck around Mason to give the Kings a 3-1 lead. Matt Greene lso got an assist.
``It's funny how that happens sometimes, when he's just coming out of the penalty box,'' Murray said. ``We're kind of sitting on our pants in front of our net, and take a swipe at the puck and it ends up in the right spot at the right time. He makes a great move on it.''
Columbus pulled within one goal when Brassard scored with 8:30 remaining in the third period, four seconds after the end of a power play. Brassard, to the left of the Kings' net, jumped on a rebound, after Rick Nash cut to the front of the net and shot, and Brassard beat Bernier from close range to cut the Kings' lead to 3-2.
The Kings took a 4-2 lead with 1:34 remaining, after a 2-on-1 break. Williams carried the puck into the Columbus zone, then passed left to Penner, who made a nice pass back to Williams just in front of the net. Williams scored, for his third point of the night, and Doughty also got an assist.
``We seemed to make it interesting in the third period, and they got a couple Grade-A scoring chances when we were only up a goal,'' Williams said. ``On the goal that kind of put it away, I wasn't really expecting the puck back, but it kind of found me right on my tape, and I was able to corral it and get it right above his pad. It was a great play by Dustin. Usually, a shooter like him will shoot that one, but I guess he fooled everybody. It was a big goal for us.''