SUNRISE, Fla. – It’s a simple formula. More wins than losses, at the end of a long road trip, equals a happy and satisfied group of NHL players and coaches.
The Kings concluded their five-game road trip Monday night by rallying from a two-goal deficit for a 4-3 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center. The Kings finished the trip with three wins and two losses and, at least for a few days, jumped back into fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
``It's a fairly successful road trip,’’ said Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, who had a memorable night that included a power-play goal, a bad pass that ultimately led to Florida’s game-tying third-period goal, and the only goal of the shootout.
``Obviously you want to go 5-0,’’ Johnson added, ``but you're playing in the NHL and you're playing a lot of games. I think if we can win more than we lose on the road, and win our home games, we'll be in a great spot.’’
The Kings, with 28 points in 22 games, are four points behind Pacific Division-leading San Jose and two points ahead of the West’s fifth-place team, Calgary, but the Flames have four games in hand over the Kings. After a Wednesday home game against Philadelphia, the Kings host Calgary on Saturday afternoon.
That will be a good test for the Kings, but so was this road trip. While it could have been a little better, it also could have been a lot worse.
After a 1-1 start to the trip, the Kings got drubbed by Atlanta, 7-0, on Friday. The next night, the Kings played a strong game and beat Tampa Bay in a shootout and, against the Panthers, maintained poise after falling behind 2-0 in the second period.
The Kings got a second-period power-play goal from Johnson and third-period goals from Jarret Stoll (power play) and Randy Jones (shorthanded) to take the lead.
Victor Oreskovich tied the game for Florida with 5:05 remaining, but the Kings held on late in the game and in overtime. Johnson scored the only goal in the shootout, and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (26 saves) stopped all three Florida shooters for the victory.
``It's a great road trip,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``When you're playing in this league today, and traveling as much as we have through this trip, to get three wins at the end of the road trip, I would have been very happy to say to the team, before we started out, that it would be great if we could do that on this trip. And it's done.’’
There was only one negative in the game for the Kings, but it could be a significant one. Kings winger Ryan Smyth, the team’s second-leading scorer, left the game after the first period with an upper-body injury and did not return.
Smyth received a solid hip check from Florida’s Keith Ballard early in the second period and missed one shift, but Murray said he didn’t know when the injury took place.
``I don't have an update, per se,’’ Murray said, approximately 20 minutes after the game ended. ``He's out with an upper-body injury. We're going to leave now and get back to L.A. and have a doctor look at it, and we'll see where it's at.’’
The Kings, already without steady defenseman Rob Scuderi, needed an extra-tight defensive effort, and for the most part that’s what they got, especially in a scoreless first period in which they outshot the Panthers 10-7.
Nathan Horton broke a scoreless tie 2:05 into the second period, with Stoll in the penalty box for slashing. Horton's shot from the left circle beat Quick high and to his short side.
The Panthers pushed their lead to 2-0 just 1:35 later. Dennis Seidenberg made a nice, long outlet pass to Steven Reinprecht, who came up the right side. Cory Stillman got behind the Kings' defense to make it a quick 2-on-1, and Reinprecht fed the puck to his left to Stillman, who one-timed it from short range past Quick at the 3:40 mark.
``Even in that scenario, being down, we were fine,’’ Murray said. ``We were still making plays. We were getting our opportunities. We were cycling the puck. We were getting good scoring chances, lots of shots on net, not really giving up a lot. So stay with it.’’
At that point, the game reached an important moment. Would the Kings fold, as they did on Friday when the Thrashers scored four goals in just more than five minutes?
No, not this time.
After faltering badly through the first minute of a power play, the Kings scored when Johnson ripped a slap shot from the top of the right circle and beat goalie Tomas Vokoun at the 9:10 mark. Jones and Alexander Frolov got assists.
``There was a calm sense on the bench, for sure,’’ Stoll said of the mood after the 2-0 deficit. ``In Atlanta, I think a panic set in pretty quick for some reason. Tonight that wasn't the case. We just went out there. We knew we were getting chances and we knew we were doing a lot of good things.
``I don't think we were getting outplayed at any point in the game. As long as we kept pushing and staying with the structure and doing our system, playing the way we need to play, we were going to get that goal and that go-ahead goal, and we got it.’’
The Kings kept playing well, went on the power play early in the third period and tied the game. Kopitar, the league's leading scorer, made a nice cross-ice pass to Stoll, who scored on a one-time shot from the top of the left circle at the 2:23 mark.
The Kings took a 3-2 lead on a shorthanded goal at the 7:58 mark. Michal Handzus pulled up in the left circle for a shot, but Jones kept going to the net. Vokoun made the stop on Handzus' shot, but Jones skated in and knocked in the rebound from the right side for the Kings’ first shorthanded goal of the season.
The lead lasted until 5:05 remained. A turnover on a clearing attempt by Johnson eventually led to a mad scramble in front of the Kings’ net, and to Quick losing his stick. Finally, Oreskovich picked up a rebound and whacked it past Quick with 5:05 remaining.
It stayed tied through overtime, although Johnson nearly ended it in the final minute of overtime on an end-to-end rush. As the second shooter in the shootout, Johnson quickly stickhandled and beat Vokoun with a wrist shot for the only tally.
``I wanted to help this team win,’’ Johnson said. ``I made a pass that got picked off late in the third, and I wanted to do everything I could to make up for it, and make it up to the boys. I'm just glad I got the opportunity to try to get the go-ahead goal in the shootout. Quick bailed me out, stopping the third guy.’’
Against a Florida team that entered the game third-worst in the NHL on the penalty kill and second-worst on the power play, the Kings took advantage. They went 2 for 6 on the power play and 2 for 3 on the penalty kill with, plus Jones’ shorthanded goal.
``We needed that tonight,’’ Murray said. ``There was a critical time in the game when we needed to get that goal to tie it up. It was huge. Special teams, I thought, were big. Jones jumping up on the penalty kill, getting a shorthanded goal. A very big night for the teams.’’