Every time you turn around, the race for the last playoff spot in the West gets tighter. Saturday afternoon, Winnipeg beat Vancouver to sneak ahead of LA. Saturday night, the Kings had Colorado in town off a 4-2 win in Anaheim the night before.
But just as Bruce Boudreau had said in his post-game comments, the Avalanche “are not going to make it”—the playoffs, that is, and so they came into the game with nothing to do but spoil. Their chances of the post-season, by the way, were dashed with Winnipeg’s result a few hours prior to the LA game.
Perhaps, by beating the Kings, the Avs hoped actually open the race up, so that rather than having five teams within the 91-95 point spread as it ended up being, the race would be “only” five teams separated by five points. So it goes on an everyday basis, with teams in the playoffs at teatime and out by the time their fans go to bed. The next day, it all revolves again, of course.
For LA, nothing mattered but two points, gained however—regulation, extra time, skills contest.
The LA team played its ace goalie, of course. Interestingly, so did the Avs, having started Reto Berra in Anaheim, a point of some consternation with the Kings fans. Patrick Roy, as IH reported Friday, was just going with a rotation, not plotting so that the Kings would be on the heavy end of his goalie tandem. Or so he said. Anyway, it would not turn out to matter, as the Kings did more offensively than the Avs, and Semyon Varlamov managed to let in three goals, one, the last, kind of a bad one, to take his team down by a 3-1 score.
The game featured the second time back for Jarrett Stoll, who had a head injury and missed the games between February 9th and March 21st. Out was Andrej Sekera, and scratched were Jamie McBain on D and Mike Richards at forward. He was also on the sidelines April 2nd, reported as his first scratch as a ten-year pro. And while getting sent to New Hampshire, as he was for two months recently, isn’t being scratched, it can’t help but seem that that was the more painful decision to be the brunt of. Where he goes from here? Anyone’s guess.
The Kings’ fourth line, now Clifford, Nolan, and Nick Shore, is apparently better as it is than with Richards centering it. Hockey can be a cruel business. But that fourth line did play well. When asked to comment, Sutter did his usual two-step: “At the end of your schedule, the end of your season, you need thirteen fourteen, fifteen forwards. Not necessarily the fourth line.”
Anyway, the line was visible in gobbling up the puck, but it was the line of Carter, King, and Toffoli who seemed to be everywhere. They produced ten of the team’s 26 shots, including five by Carter. Every time you looked, he was buzzing down the right side either with the puck or after it. They had two of the goals, one by King and one by Martinez off a play made by Carter and Toffoli.
The third LA goal, which came with about two minutes left in the game, was a shot by Gaborik up and over the goalie, from the slot. Not a good one, as Varlamov looked up at the sky after it went in. On the bench, Patrick Roy stewed, chewing his cheek and probably thinking, “Kid, I could have stopped that one, even at my age.”
In truth, the Kings dominated with the puck, holding the Avs to ten shots. This was the lowest shot total ever, bar one game, when they also gave up ten. That was in 1994, versus San Jose.
The Kings played keepaway for long periods, including one stretch in the second period of about four minutes. The Avs did have some two-on-ones, where the Kings pinched, showing their lack of worry over the Avalanche firepower. But in all three cases, pucks skipped past intendees for the passes, or were knocked away by Kings’ sticks. One of those was Kopitar, the only man back after both D men got caught in the zone.
It was a game when D men pinched with impunity, hard to believe, in a sense, of the risk-averse Kings, especially given their need to win the game. But in the end, it worked, and though the single goal that Quick gave up was a softie, off his glove, he held on to stop the other nine shots directed at him and get the win.
“A lot of zone time, a lot of opportunities, a lot of going to the net, that sort of thing. You gotta score goals.” And that, fans, is how your coach says, “bug off” for the thousandth night in a row. It was his sole explanation of the game, aside from the misdirection on the fourth line.
The team sold out their arena, as always happens these days.
My book Facing Wayne Gretzky has a Jim Fox interview in it, and many more.