This much has been settled: the Kings do have the ability to play a very strong all-around game.
It’s been a season full of fits, starts and frustration, but at least for one night, it all came together as the Kings beat the Minnesota Wild 5-2 on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
The Kings scored four second-period goals to take a 5-0 lead into the third, and until then, they generally did everything they wanted to against an improved Minnesota team that had won five of its last six games.
The Kings put forth an aggressive, effective forecheck. They passed the puck crisply and accurately through the neutral zone. They stayed out of the box. They got net traffic, and shot with confidence. They got goals from the first, second and fourth lines, and from two defensemen (one on the power play).
And, every so often, they skated near goalie Jonathan Quick, just to keep him company early in the game.
The Kings took the game to the Wild from the opening puck drop, and Minnesota didn’t record its first shot on goal until 11-plus minutes into the game. The Kings took a 1-0 lead with a goal less than three minutes into the game, then bulldozed the Wild with four second-period goals and chased goalie Josh Harding.
``I think the last four periods have been a tell-tale sign of how we need to play,’’ Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``The defense moved the puck a little quicker, getting it up the ice. We got on the forecheck, turning pucks over, the last four periods.’’
The Kings made it a happy milestone night for Terry Murray, who coached his 1,000th NHL game. They won without Dustin Penner, who will be out for an undetermined amount of time with a hand injury.
``It’s a game that was very important for us to win,’’ Murray said. ``I really liked the focus coming into this game tonight. The players came out, right away, with the kind of intensity and attitude of moving your feet, getting pucks going north, recovering pucks. … So that’s what I liked out of the milestone, the fact that the team played well and won the game.’’
Where did the offense come from? In 16 games this season, the Kings had scored more than two goals in regulation only three times. On Saturday, they scored four goals in the second period. It was the Kings’ first four-goal period since last December, when they scored four in the third period to beat San Jose.
So, the Kings took a 5-0 lead in the second period, and the home fans felt so giddy that they even cheered a Kings penalty. Actually, the applause came in appreciation for Gagne, who leveled Minnesota’s Brad Staubitz immediately after Staubitz delivered an open-ice hit to Kings star center Anze Kopitar.
That led to the Wild’s first goal, as Cal Clutterbuck scored on the power play 47 seconds into the third period. and Minnesota added another goal. Quick was sharp throughout and stopped 24 of 26 shots.
The Kings, with one win in their last seven games, needed some early momentum, and got it.
Momentum came from an unlikely source. The Kings' fourth line got the game's first goal, as the Kings took a 1-0 lead 2:49 into the first period. Trevor Lewis held the puck along the side boards, then pushed it behind the net. Ethan Moreau grabbed it, then centered it toward Fraser. Harding appeared to lose sight of the puck just as Fraser poked it into the net from close range, for his first goal with the Kings, in his second game.
That was the only goal of the period, but the Kings outshot the Wild 12-3, and Minnesota didn't record its first shot on goal until 11-plus minutes into the game. The Kings did get a scare, though, when Martinez left the game after a hit from Warren Peters, a hit that cost Peters a five-minute boarding penalty.
Martinez was back on the ice for the start of the second period, and Martinez made the Wild pay when he scored, two minutes into the period, to give the Kings a 2-0 lead. Martinez pinched down to the right side of the net and, after a goal-front scramble, found a loose puck and knocked it into the net as he fell to the ice. Williams and Gagne got assists.
``That was probably the turning point in the game, really,’’ Brown said. ``We had a five-minute opportunity to kind of put the nail in the coffin. Williams made a good play from low and we found a goal to get up 2-0, and then we go from there.’’
The Kings took a 3-0 lead 6:49 into the second period. Brown took a pass from Jack Johnson and carried the puck with speed into the Minnesota zone. Brown fought off a bump from Marek Zidlicky, kept control of the puck and put a shot on net. Harding made the save, but Brown went to the front of the net, got his own rebound and scored from close range.
Moments after Quick made a sprawling save, Gagne scored the Kings' third goal of the period, with 8:16 remaining, to give the Kings a 4-0 lead. Gagne brought the puck out from behind the net, and his backhand shot beat Harding, five-hole. Kopitar and Williams got assists. That was the last shot Harding faced, as he was replaced by Niklas Backstrom. Harding allowed four goals on 21 shots.
The Kings tied a single-game high with their fifth goal, as Greene got on the score sheet with 5:47 remaining in the second period. Jarret Stoll won an offensive-zone faceoff, and Trent Hunter pushed the puck back to Greene, who wound up for a slap shot. With Kyle Clifford running traffic in front, the shot beat Backstrom to give the Kings a 5-0 lead.
Minnesota got on the scoreboard with a power-play goal 47 seconds into the third period. Mikko Koivu brought the puck to the net and didn't score, but the puck stayed in the crease. Clutterbuck beat three Kings defenders to the puck and poked it past Quick to make it a 5-1 game. Dany Heatley also got an assist.
The Wild made it a three-goal game with 7:37 remaining, when Darroll Powe, skating through the middle of the ice, reached out and deflected Marek Zidlicky's point shot past Quick to make it a 5-2 game. Nate Prosser also got an assist.
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