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|Sneaky Smyth - Sat, 26 Mar 2011|
|03/26/11 - Kopitar Injury - Sat, 26 Mar 2011|
|03/26/11 - Post Game - Brown - Sat, 26 Mar 2011|
|03/26/11 - Post Game - Smyth - Sat, 26 Mar 2011|
|03/26/11 - Post Game - Coach Murray - Sat, 26 Mar 2011|
|03/26/11 - Post Game - Coach Sacco - Sat, 26 Mar 2011|
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A nice, leisurely Saturday afternoon went tragically wrong for the Kings in a heartbeat.
One moment, they were cruising along comfortably in the second period, with a two-goal lead against a Colorado team that didn't seem particularly motivated to provide much resistance. Then, in the next moment, STAPLES Center fell silent.
With the puck blown dead at the other end of the ice, all attention turned to a corner of the rink where Anze Kopitar lay prone, flat on his stomach, not moving. Kopitar needed the help of a team trainer and two teammates to get off the ice. The worst fears were confirmed after the game, when the team announced Kopitar suffered a broken ankle.
The Kings finished off a 4-1 victory over the Avalanche before a sellout crowd of 18,118, another boost to their playoff hopes, but afterward the mood was somber as the Kings pondered life without Kopitar, who is expected to miss at least six weeks.
``He's our best player,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``We've got to find a way, either way. Injuries happen during the year. You don't want to have your best player go down, but if that's the case, we need to shoulder the responsibility collectively and find a way. No other team is going to feel sorry for us. … We'll maybe find out what we're made of.''
The injury took place with less than five minutes remaining in the second period, when Kopitar battled with Colorado defenseman Ryan O'Byrne in the corner and appeared to get his right leg twisted underneath him as he awkwardly fell to the ice.
Kopitar will undergo an MRI on Monday, a team spokesman said, but even in the most optimistic of circumstances, Kopitar wouldn't be ready to play until perhaps the Western Conference Finals, should the Kings -- currently fifth in the West -- advance that far.
The devastating injury to Kopitar -- the Kings' leading scorer, with 73 points in 75 games -- came just five days after the Kings lost winger Justin Williams, their second-leading scorer, to a dislocated shoulder. Williams is expected to miss at least four weeks.
So a Kings team that has been strong defensively all season, but has often struggled with goal production, now faces a huge challenge without its top two scorers and in particular without Kopitar, who is arguably their top two-way player.
``He's your top player, your top forward,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``There's quite a hole that's going to be there now, with him out of the lineup for this length of time. But I've been through these kinds of things before, with top guys being out because of injuries. It's an opportunity. Other guys step up. The character of the team needs to step up.
``Everybody needs to do the right things and, just talking about the way we finished up the game in the third period, that's critical now. You've got to trust your structure and your system and give it the best opportunity you can, as a group now, to finish games off and play the right way.''
Kopitar was playing in his 330th consecutive game, a franchise record that he set this month when he broke Marcel Dionne's previous record of 324 consecutive games. Murray said he would discuss, with general manager Dean Lombardi, a potential transaction and the call-up of a forward to take Kopitar's spot on the roster.
``Not one guy can replace a guy like Kopitar,'' Ryan Smyth said. ``Everybody has to collectively come together and regroup. Everybody has got to fill a good role and it’s all about opportunity.''
The only positive on the day, for the Kings, was the two points they picked up in the standings, and Kopitar contributed with a first-period assist. Willie Mitchell and Michal Handzus scored first-period goals and, after Colorado pulled within 2-1, Smyth and Trevor Lewis scored third-period goals to put the game away.
``I thought we started this game very well, weathered the stormed the second and closed it out in the third,'' Brown said. ``We need to find a way to keep it simple against teams like this. If we play a tight game over the course of the game, then we’re going to win it because they’re going to be taking a lot more chances than we are. It’s really about limiting our mistakes.''
Jonathan Quick was strong throughout the game in goal, with 20 saves, and the Kings got a power-play goal and went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.
The Kings took a 1-0 lead with 9:30 remaining in the first period. The puck came off the left boards in the Colorado zone, and Mitchell one-timed it from the top of the left circle. The puck got through traffic and beat Colorado goalie Peter Budaj. At one point during the game, Kopitar got credit for the goal, but it was changed back to Mitchell, who now has a career-high five goals.
Handzus' power-play goal gave the Kings a 2-0 lead with 2:26 remaining in the first period. Brown found Handzus with a pass at the Colorado blue line, and Handzus skated in and beat Budaj with a high wrist shot. Drew Doughty also picked up an assist.
The Avalanche pulled within 2-1 with 1:39 remaining in the second period. Doughty slipped while trying to play the puck behind the Kings' net. The Avalanche picked it up, Paul Stastny hit Milan Hejduk with a quick centering pass and Hejduk scored from close range.
The Kings regained a two-goal lead 1:36 into the third period, when Smyth held the puck behind the Colorado net, then lunged for a wraparound and beat Budaj. Lewis got an assist, and Brown got his second assist, as the Kings took a 3-1 lead.
Smyth had gone 14 consecutive games without a goal and had one goal in his previous 24 games.
``It’s a relief,'' Smyth said. ``It’s nice to contribute and feel a part, for sure. It’s a matter of being in the right positions, and don’t ride your highs too high or your lows too low, and you have stay an even keel. I thought it was a tough stretch but it’s nice to contribute.''
Lewis' goal gave the Kings a 4-1 lead. Smyth carried the puck deep into the Colorado zone, then fed a pass through the crease to Lewis, who tapped the puck past Budaj from close range with 9:55 remaining in the third period.
``The game was good,'' Murray said. ``We got the two points that we wanted to get. I thought we played a good game. I liked our third period. You lose your top player like that, to an injury, and nobody really knows what the extent of it is, but the attitude going into the third period was good. We played the right way, we kept the game simple and ended up getting a couple goals and finishing it off with the right attitude. I was very happy with the way the game ended.''