The biggest name on the NHL’s trade market went north, in a geographic sense.
The Kings’ fortunes continue to go north, in a figurative sense.
Ilya Kovalchuk moved on, from Atlanta to New Jersey, but the Kings did just fine without him Thursday night, as they survived a wild third period to beat the rival Anaheim Ducks 6-4 in front of a sellout crowd at STAPLES Center.
The Kings have tied the franchise record with eight consecutive victories, a level previously reached during the 1991-92 and 1972-73, and they have also moved ahead of Phoenix and into fourth place in the Western Conference with 25 games remaining.
That’s rarified air for a team that finished second-last in the conference last season, but the Kings keep rolling, and are 10-1 in their last 11 games.
The latest win didn’t come easily though. Up 4-1 early in the third period, the Kings appeared on their way to a laugher, but the Ducks didn’t crack. They scored three goals in the span of 6 minutes, 24 seconds, and tied the game midway through the third period.
After that, though, the Kings steadied, and Dustin Brown scored the game-winning goal with 5:32 left. Anze Kopitar’s second goal of the game, on the power play with 27 seconds left, clinched the win as the Kings improved to 3-0 against the Ducks this season.
``It's definitely not what we want, but at the end of the day, the two points are the most important thing,’’ Kopitar said. ``It doesn't matter how you get it, but it just shows that we cannot let down, especially not in the third period. We got the fourth goal early, and you've got a three-goal lead. We've got to learn to shut the games down. We've done it before. We just can't let down and we can't back off like that.’’
It was a big night for Kopitar, who matched his career high with four points (two goals, two assists) and also matched a career high by extending his point streak to eight games.
Jack Johnson had one goal and three assists for a career-high four points and Jonathan Quick (18 saves) became the first Kings goalie to ever win eight consecutive games.
``It's been a pretty good run right now,’’ Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. ``Guys are playing well. It's not often that you get 10, 15 guys playing their `A' game all at the same time. It's pretty spread out. Right now, we've got a lot of guys playing at the top of their game, and I think that's showing in our play.’’
Despite heavy rumors to the contrary in recent weeks, the Kings took the ice intact.
The Kings had been involved in early trade trade for Kovalchuk, but sources said general manager Dean Lombardi did not want to fracture the current roster. A trade, such as the one the Devils made, almost certainly would have taken players off the Kings’ roster.
That was a no-go for Lombardi, and the Kings seem to be doing just fine, as is.
``Truthfully, I don't think anyone really thought about that,’’ Johnson said of trade rumors. ``I don't think anyone thought anyone was leaving this room. We've got a good team in here. We like our locker room, and I don't think anyone was really thinking about that.’’
The Ducks gave the Kings plenty to think about early in Thursday’s game, when they started strong – the night after a big win over Detroit – and got an early 1-0 lead.
The Ducks took the lead 5:40 into the first period. A faceoff in the Kings' zone led to a scramble, and Saku Koivu ended up with the puck. He sent a quick pass to the slot, to Jason Blake, whose wrist shot beat Quick.
After a flurry of chances by the Kings, and some outstanding saves by Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller (25 saves), the Kings caught a break with 1:06 remaining in the period.
Brad Richardson forced a turnover by Scott Niedermayer behind the Ducks' net, and Kopitar ended up with the puck in the slot. Kopitar was able to steady the puck and shoot, and Hiller made a stop but the puck squeezed past him to tie the game.
``We didn't have a great start, but Quickie was there for us again,’’ Kopitar said. ``It's almost expected. When we don't have a good start, we know he's going to make some big saves just before we get going.’’
The Kings had a strong first minute of the second period, and got rewarded for it. Anze Kopitar held the puck low, and sent it to the front of the net. Despite some traffic, Wayne Simmonds picked up the puck and scored from close range at the 1:04 mark.
A power-play goal, with 2:59 remaining in the second period, gave the Kings a two-goal lead. Johnson sent the puck down low to Alexander Frolov, who turned and whipped a shot toward the net. Michal Handzus, in front of Hiller, got the deflection and scored.
The Kings took a 4-1 lead 1:44 into the third period. Johnson ripped a slap shot from the left side, just inside the blue line, and it beat Hiller, with Handzus parked in front of the net providing a screen.
The three-goal lead didn't last long. Just 1:27 after Johnson's goal, Troy Bodie took a pass from Ryan Getzlaf and, from the right circle, shot through traffic and beat Quick at the 3:11 mark.
Just 2:01 after they made it a 4-2 game, the Ducks scored again. Matt Beleskey got wide open in the slot, right in front of the net, and took a pass from Getzlaf from the side of the net and beat Quick, 5:12 into the third period.
The Ducks scored their third goal of the period, and tied the game, with Ryan Carter's goal 9:35 into the third period. A quick centering pass from Todd Marchant found Carter's stick after Carter beat Randy Jones to the front of the net.
``Not the kind of drama you want, but you win the game,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``That's a big division, it's two points, an important two points. We found a way to come back. We were reeling a little bit when the score got to be 4-3, and now it's tied.
``Actually, quite honestly, in my opinion when it became 4-3, we settled down. We relaxed and said, `We don't have to protect the lead any more. It's not there. It's tied. So let's just go play the game.' I think we started to play much more organized after that.’’
Brown gave the Kings the lead again, with 5:32 remaining. A strong forecheck led to Kopitar picking up the puck to the side of the net. He shot, and the rebound kicked wide left to Brown, who shot into an empty net.
Kopitar capped the scoring with a power-play goal with 27 seconds remaining for his fourth point of the game.
``It's one of those nights when the bounces are going a little bit your way,’’ Kopitar said. ``The first goal, it wasn't anything special. It was just putting the puck on net. The assist to Brownie was a little bit lucky. It doesn't matter if I get four points or zero points as long as we, as a team, get two points. That's the most important thing.’’
The Kings eight-game winning streak ties a club record (also done in 1991-92 and 1972-73)...The Kings are 10-1-0 in their last 11 games ... Anze Kopitar now has an eight-game point streak (7-8=15), tying a career high (other eight-game streak was Nov. 28 – Dec. 12, 2007) ... Kopitar’s four-point night (2-2=4) ties a career high (also had four points Feb. 16, 2009 vs. ATL) ... When Kopitar scores a goal the Kings are 17-3-0 ... Jack Johnson’s four point night (1-3=4) and three assists is a career high ... Michal Handzus (1-2=3), Wayne Simmonds (1-1=2) and Alexander Frolov (2a) also had multi-point nights ... Jonathan Quick has won eight games in a row, a record for Kings goaltenders (previous mark was seven also held by Robb Stauber and Kelly Hrudey) ... Quick is 13-3-0 in his last 16 games ... Quick is first in the NHL with 33 wins, two short of the Kings single-season record (Mario Lessard had 35 in 1980-81) ... The Kings 73 points is the second-best record after 57 games (best record after 57 games is 32-11-14 = 78 pts) ... The 2009-10 Kings squad is the fastest in club history to reach 35 wins ... The Kings are also now tied with Phoenix for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference ... The Kings are 6-for-18 on the power play in the last six games (33.3 percent) ... The Kings are 22-0-0 when leading after two periods ... The Kings are 3-0-0 against the Ducks this season and 12-4-1 vs. the Pacific Division
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