For the fourth straight game, the Los Angeles Kings had to face an opponent who was scrambling for playoff position in the West. The Kings were the less desperate team each time, but they earned a point in San Jose and took down Columbus and Dallas respectively at home. Tonight, however, they ran into a team that simply played better. After the first five minutes, the Minnesota Wild took it to the Kings, and goals by Charlie Coyle and Cal Clutterbuck in quick succession were enough to give them a 2-1 victory.
After watching the first 39:59 of this game, it was remarkable that the Kings were so close to earning a point tonight. Los Angeles came out of the gate pretty well by holding the puck in the zone for long stretches, but after never really threatening, Minnesota took control at home. Jonathan Bernier held off the charge for a few minutes, but after an extended period of possession the Wild struck first. After Bernier deflected a shot high in the air, Zach Parise took the puck behind the net and made a seeing-eye pass through Matt Greene to Charlie Coyle. Coyle's shot was perfect, picking the top corner to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. But hey, a one-goal deficit? No big deal. Until 16 seconds later, when Minnesota moved out of their zone and Devin Setoguchi chipped the puck along the boards past Slava Voynov . Left with a 2-on-1, Rob Scuderi actually defended the play well, and Voynov recovered enough to force Cal Clutterbuck to shoot instead of pass. But even with the sharp angle, Clutterbuck's shot beat Bernier on the short side; good shot and well-placed, but one that Bernier probably should've stopped.
After that point, Bernier was perfect, finishing with 23 saves. The Kings finished off the first by killing most of Jordan Nolan's charging penalty (no arguments, as he was about a foot off the ice when he hit Jason Pominville), aided by the post near the end of the first. But LA couldn't gain any traction in the second period. One puck actually ended up in the net, as Justin Williams knocked one from high in the air between Niklas Backstrom's legs. Too high; the stick was well above the crossbar. Unlike Sunday, the refs got this one right on the ice, and it was confirmed after review.
At the game's halfway point came a pivotal moment; for the second straight game, it was a divisive Dustin Brown hit. While his check on the Dallas Stars' Antoine Roussel rightfully was not punished, Brendan Shanahan will almost certainly be taking a look at his high hit on Jason Pominville. (Poor guy got nailed twice tonight, and neither was really clean.) Brown was controlling the puck along the boards, and when Pominville quickly approached from the side, it appeared that Brown gave him a "cold shoulder", stiffening for contact and knocking Pominville to the ice. The ensuing replays, however, showed that Brown did not simply freeze; his elbow moved outward as Pominville neared, and a combination of elbow and shoulder was what made an impact to Pominville's head.
Short version: even if it wasn't dirty, it was pretty dangerous, and Pominville didn't return. Brown claimed he was bracing for impact, which I actually find believable. Most opposing fans wouldn't. We'll see what the Department of Player Safety thinks.
It took Jeff Carter to break up the shutout, of course; he scored with 0.8 seconds left in the second period, after Kopitar's ferocious forecheck freed the puck behind the net, Brad Richardson swiftly pounced on it and fed Jeff Carter in the high slot. Carter had time for one shot, and he took advantage, beating Backstrom with a wrister. This offered an entire period for the Kings to find a second goal, and though they had a typically good third period and outshot the Wild 12-3, Backstrom was game. Backstrom's biggest stop was with the net empty and 11 seconds left; Los Angeles rotated the puck repeatedly and appeared to be waiting too long for their shot, but Mike Richards threaded a pass between two defenders to set up Voynov for a great opportunity. The top half of the net was open, but Voynov's shot couldn't quite get up high enough, and though his shot beat Backstrom's glove, Backstrom's calf actually blocked the puck (see the picture at the top). That save sealed things, and Minnesota got a huge win.
The Kings don't usually go down in the first game of back-to-backs, and yep, they get ANOTHER desperate team tomorrow when they go to Detroit. The Kings will still finish ahead of the Sharks as long as they win on Saturday, but the Blues are in position to pass the Kings if LA doesn't win their final games.