Jonathan Quick was back in net Thursday as the Kings extended their efforts to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. This on the heels of an amazing performance in their last game, Tuesday versus Anaheim. It was a game that I described as featuring perhaps Quick’s best period of hockey, ever, and I’ve seen a lot of them. The Kings won that one. Could they beat Chicago at home?
Thursday it was Chicago in town, a team that has been beat up of late, losing to Nashville and Calgary, though winning Wednesday against Arizona, in OT. The Kings were coming off the earlier referenced 2-1 win versus Anaheim, and a similar 2-1 victory versus Columbus. Prior to that, they had lost huge (9-3) to Colorado and beaten Chicago.
The Kings should expect to beat the Blackhawks, one of the worst teams in the league if you take the records as evidence (you should). And they needed to beat them, with four games to go. According to the calculations most people follow, the Kings needed three of four games (as wins) to end the season. And even that would be a fluid thing, depending upon what certain other teams—Minnesota, Dallas, Vegas, Vancouver—were able to marshal.
But as the cliché goes, only the little picture mattered, in the face of what the Kings could do to their opponents in this specific contest. They came out and played a rather even first period versus the Blackhawks. Quick did not have to be spectacular, but neither did Collin Delia, who allowed a single goal in a period which ended 1-0 for LA. The goal came off the stick of Phillip Danault, who put in his 26th, a five-game goal streak being established. He spun backwards on a point shot and swept the puck in on a backhand whack with about 12 minutes gone in period one.
The shots were 17-6 in LA’s favor, but that number is deceiving. The Kings were not three times better than the Hawks, nor was Delia three times better than Quick.
But in the way things go, the second period at halfway saw the Kings score goal number two. The puck came to Edler at the point, and he flung it towards the net, but going wide. It hit Kopitar in front and was redirected into the cage. This was Kopitar’s 19th goal of the year.
Chicago got one back on a disputed goal that went to review for offside. Was Kane out of the zone? Was his teammate inside of it? The review said yes on both counts, and Chicago edged up to 2-1 Kings with about five minutes left in period two. The Kings, having lost the challenge, were to be shorthanded. They were ahead of Chicago 26-10 in shots, by the way. The ensuing Chicago PP was largely useless, They got no shots, and Alex Edler blocked a shot from them along the way.
Things progressed with the Kings ahead, but about the only thrill ride as the period wound down was Athanasiou to Byfield with Arthur Kaliyev lurking. They did not score.
Period three saw LA pot two goals, both shorthanded. The first was Athanasiou, unassisted, to make the game 3-1 for LA. Fifteen seconds later, the Kings added another, and the game finished 4-1.
Bigger picture, the West opened up some given the results on the night—mostly by teams which lost (the Canucks, Dallas). The Kings were third in the Pacific with 94 points. The wild card teams were Nashville, with 93, and Dallas, on 91. The first team outside was Nashville, with 89 points, trailed by Vancouver, with 87.
Alex Edler of the Kings said after the game, “We’re just looking one game at a time. That’s all you can win. We won’t look beyond the next game. We’re only looking at the next game. That’s where our focus is right now.” He was returning after a long absence due to injury.
Kings coach McLellan would say similar things: “They’re all tough games. Real good recovery after the goal against.” He elaborated on that, then said further, “I don’t think we approached the game any differently [from Tuesday]. We had a little more aggressiveness in our game, though we didn’t change anything tactically. We capitalized on the chances that we had. We had fewer chances in the third period than the first, but we can up with [two goals]. We found a way to put the nail in the coffin if you will.” He cited the pride with which opponents typically play, no matter where they are in the standings.
Anaheim visits the Kings Saturday with the chance to play a bit of a spoiler role, though the Kings’ playoff hopes get stronger with each LA win and loss by the others in the West.
In the “all good things must come to an end” category, Zamboni driver Luis Vizcaino was working his 1707th home game for/in Los Angeles. He has missed only one game in 42 seasons. The game marked his final one.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.