ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Kings’ goal, at the start of this season, was to make the playoffs. They’re halfway there.
A brilliant, three-goal first period propelled the Kings to a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. The win stopped the Kings’ four-game losing streak and marked the halfway point of the 82-game season.
It’s been a strange ride so far for the Kings, who have enjoyed an unexpected climb to the top of the Western Conference and endured long-term injuries, long road trips and, of late, a fairly long losing streak that threatened to turn them into playoff pretenders?
How did the Kings respond? They didn’t arrive at their St. Paul hotel until approximately 3:20 a.m., but just about 17 hours later, they came out with one of their best periods of the season and blitzed a Wild team that might have been expecting a tired opponent.
``That's a character win,’’ coach Terry Murray said. ``That's digging in and playing with the right kind of an attitude to get back in the win column. Just building off the momentum of the last couple games.
``We talked about that. They were good efforts, and we just weren't able to find ways to win, but tonight it was very good, doing the right stuff. A real good character win for us.''
Brad Richardson scored at the 6:35 mark of the first period, Alexander Frolov scored the first of his two goals at 15:49 and Ryan Smyth scored a power-play goal at 18:54.
The Kings never led less than a two-goal lead after that. They got a second-period goal from Michal Handzus and a third-period empty-netter from Frolov as they won for the first time since Dec. 16 and finished the first half of the season with 49 points.
Doubling 49 points would equal 98 for the season, a number that would almost certainly put the Kings in the playoffs. But a lot can change in three-plus months. Just less than three weeks ago, for instance, the Kings were in first place in the Western Conference. Now they’re in eighth place.
``We had, I believe, a great first half,’’ Smyth said. ``We do have a lot of room for improvement. We want to get to the postseason. It's going to get tighter. It's going to get harder. It's going to be a grind. Games like this, or even games like last night, if we can pull out on the win side in tight-checking games, you've got to find a way to get two points, or a point for sure. Each point, from here on in, is so important.’’
Jonathan Quick returned as the Kings’ starting goalie and looked strong, with 27 saves, and the Kings made other changes. They put Peter Harrold in the lineup in place of Teddy Purcell, who went from being the first-line right winger to a healthy scratch.
The Kings took an early lead after some good play around the net. Parse sent the puck to the net, and Richardson, parked in front, fought off defenders and took two or three whacks at the puck before he scored, 6:35 into the first period.
The Kings took a two-goal lead with 4:11 left in the period with more nice work in front of the net. Handzus centered the puck from the corner. Frolov, all alone in front, first had the puck poked away by goalie Niklas Backstrom, then had a shot blocked by a defender, then shot over the prone goalie to give the Kings a 2-0 lead. Segal also got an assist, for his first NHL point.
The Kings scored a power-play goal with 1:06 remaining in the first period. Drew Doughty made it happen, as he blocked a clearing attempt, then sent a puck to the net. Smyth, parked in front, got the tip-in to give the Kings a 3-0 lead.
The goal was Smyth’s first since he returned on Dec. 26, after missing almost six weeks with an upper-body injury. It was also a big goal for the Kings’ power play, which had scored only two goals in his previous 23 chances.
``I was pretty excited,’’ Smyth said. ``Obviously when you miss a chunk of games, you want to feel like you're contributing and being a part. When I scored, it was pretty exciting. It was big. We scored on the power play and we contributed that way, and that was something that was needed too.’’
The Kings continued their scoring early in the second period. In a delayed-penalty situation, the Kings controlled the puck, then Frolov fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Handzus, whose one-timer from the right side beat Backstrom 3:17 into the second period for a 4-0 lead.
The Wild answered at the 4:50 mark. Quick moved to his right to play a rebound shot, but Antti Miettinen instead centered a pass to Brunette, whose one-timer went into an open net to make it 4-1.
Minnesota had only one shot on goal in the third period until, with 6:03 remaining, Owen Nolan scored to make it a two-goal game. Nolan, in front, took a centering pass from Marek Zidlicky and beat Quick to make it 4-2.
1 - 0 LAK
2 - 0 LAK
3 - 0 LAK
4 - 0 LAK
4 - 1 LAK