There are no guarantees in the NHL, but one thing is near-certain for the Kings. When they play the Calgary Flames, any place, any time, it's not going to be an easy night.
Nine times since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Kings had faced the Flames, and they had lost eight times. In fact, they had totaled only 12 goals in those nine games.
How did the Kings turn it around Thursday night, in a 2-1 victory over the Flames before a sellout crowd at STAPLES Center? A lot of hard work, some typically strong goaltending and a little rookie luck all added up to a big win, the Kings' third consecutive victory.
Kyle Clifford scored his first NHL goal, in the first period, when a puck deflected off his skate. Anze Kopitar scored a third-period power-play goal and the Kings saw their home penalty-kill streak end, but held on for the victory behind Jonathan Quick's 26 saves.
Kopitar has now scored the game-winning goal in three consecutive games.
``Terry (Murray) was talking about it after (the game) in here, and he said it was probably the most consistent 60 minutes against these guys since he's been here,'' Kopitar said. ``It's pretty close since I've been here too, just two years longer. For whatever reason, they were just tough to play against, or we had a hard time playing against them, but tonight I thought it was a great effort for 60 minutes and we got the job done.''
The Flames entered the game with the second-fewest points in the Western Conference, but they've been a nightmare team for the Kings in the past few seasons, with their strong defense and sparkling goaltending usually giving the Kings fits.
This time, though, the Kings looked strong from the opening faceoff and had few holes in their game. They skated hard, hit, put pressure on goalie Miikka Kiprusoff -- with 32 shots on goal -- and limited the Flames' scoring chances to a few goal-mouth scrambles.
The only negatives for the Kings were the end of their penalty-kill streak -- they had been 45-for-45 at home until Olli Jokinen's late goal made it 2-1 -- and the possible loss of forward Brad Richardson, who left with an upper-body injury in the first period.
Otherwise, everything broke right for the Kings, including a favorable video review early in the first period of a still-scoreless game.
The Flames celebrated a goal at the 6:20 mark, but it was overturned when league officials in Toronto ruled that the puck had been kicked into the Kings' net.
Clifford scored six minutes later, and the Kings were off and running. Only Kiprusoff's calm, outstanding play prevented the Kings from scoring on a handful of quality scoring chances, and for most of the game, the Kings looked to be playing with high confidence.
``In my three years here, I think that was the best 60 minutes we've played against that team,'' Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. ``Every time, I don't know what it is, but we come out slow against them, and if we have the lead, we lose it, or if we're losing, we never get it back. So it was definitely good to play tonight. That whole 60 minutes, I thought we were stellar the entire time, except for maybe in that last five minutes when they got that goal, they were on us a little bit. But besides that, we were great.''
The Kings regained the services of winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, who had missed the previous 12 games with a broken finger, and they nearly allowed the game's first goal.
Calgary appeared to take the lead 6:20 into the first period when, after a mad scramble in front of the Kings' net, the puck ended up across the line. On-ice officials ruled it a goal, but after a video review in Toronto it was overturned and ruled that Matt Stajan's ``kicking motion'' sent the puck into the net.
The Kings missed an opportunity two minutes later, when Kiprusoff made a lunging stick save on Jarret Stoll's close-range shot, but the Kings took the lead at the 12:08 mark.
Wayne Simmonds held the puck in the corner, in the Calgary zone, and rifled it toward the front of the net. Clifford was there, directly in front of Kiprusoff, and had the puck deflect in off his skate for his first NHL goal.
``Hopefully they don't have video of it, so I can describe it a little bit better,'' Clifford joked. ``It was an ugly goal, but it was good to get the first one off my back, and it even makes it better that we won tonight.''
Asked what he planned to do with the first-goal puck, Clifford smiled and said, ``I'm going to send it back home to my parents. It's a cheap Christmas present.''
Murray liked the end result of Clifford's goal, and the way it was set up.
``Whenever you're playing against Calgary, and one of the top goaltenders, Kiprusoff, you have to get to the net,'' Murray said. ``You've got to get to the blue paint, and good things will happen if you get pucks there. That's exactly what the scenario was on that play. Simmer is F3. He's high and he just pokes the puck to keep it alive.
``He recovers it and now we go to the net with Clifford, and you're throwing pucks to the net from angles and you're hoping something good is going to happen, and it did. Cliffy is now the proud owner of his first puck, first goal in the National Hockey League.''
Richardson left the game with approximately eight minutes remaining in the first period -- skating to the bench in apparent significant discomfort -- and did not return.
The Kings took a 2-0 lead with a power-play goal 5:10 into the third period. Jack Johnson's point shot got deflected in front of the Calgary net, and Kopitar was in good position, to the side of the net, to swipe a backhand shot past Kiprusoff. Dustin Brown also got an assist as Kopitar recorded his third goal in his last four games.
The Kings had their home penalty-kill streak ended when the Flames scored a power-play goal and pulled within 2-1 with 3:21 remaining in the third period. Anton Babchuk shot from the left point and Quick got a piece of the puck, but it got behind him and Jokinen tipped it in to make it a one-goal game, but the Kings held on.
Tempers flared late, when Calgary's Rene Bourque appeared to spear Doughty in front of the Kings' net. Bourque was given a slashing penalty after a push-and-shove scrum.
``We're obviously still not happy about all those losses,'' Doughty said of the Kings' recent slump, ``but we're past that, and now that we're on a roll we just want to continue this. We've got a big game Saturday, and then we go right into Detroit on Monday. So both of those games are conference games, and must-wins.''
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