On Sunday night, the Dallas Stars scored four unanswered goals against St. Louis to win at home. On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Kings scored five unanswered goals against St. Louis to win at home. Both teams had good third period mojo coming in, but playing after three days of rest, the Stars took it to the Kings in the final frame tonight. Three major defensive lapses and a 31-save performance by Kari Lehtonen eventually made the difference in a 5-2 Dallas win.
Early on in the first, Keaton Ellerby took a tripping penalty shortly after turning the puck over in the Kings' zone. On the replay, it appeared that Erik Cole tripped against the boards as opposed to Ellerby's stick. On the one hand, the fans were angry and even Jim Fox (the least biased commentator around) thought it was an awful call; on the other hand, no sarcastic tweet from @LAKings, so I guess it wasn't the worst call ever. The Kings started the kill well, but when Jamie Benn recovered the deflection from his own blocked shot, a streaking Jaromir Jagr punished a momentary brain-fart by the PK unit. No one saw Jagr approaching behind Drew Doughty and Kyle Clifford, and he converted Benn's cross-ice pass from close range to give Dallas the lead.
Overall, the Kings did have a strong first, outshooting Dallas 12-8. Lehtonen had a 2.26 GAA coming into tonight, and he also had a strong first. But Los Angeles was able to equalize, thanks to a surprisingly tremendous goalscorer's goal from Trevor Lewis. Doughty (by juking a defender out of his skates) and Clifford (on a totally innocent turnaround shot) each came close to beating Lehtonen before Lewis got his chance after a strong forecheck by Dwight King. Lewis took the puck from behind the net to the right circle, and instead of waiting for something else to develop, he put a pinpoint shot above Lehtonen's left shoulder to tie things up. Snipe.
Doughty broke up a Dallas 2-on-1 early in the second, and the Stars' Reilly Smith rung a wrist shot off the post midway through. Surprisingly, it was a Kings' penalty kill that turned things around on an otherwise weak night for the special teams. After Alec Martinez took a penalty, the Kings got two shorthanded shots and Jake Muzzin leveled Ryan Garbutt to give LA a bit of a boost. The King used that boost to take the lead, and wouldn't you know it, Jeff Carter was the culprit. Richards (who has nine assists to Jeff Carter this year) and Dustin Penner (getting a helper in his fourth straight game) got the puck around to Carter, above the left circle. The NHL's second-leading goalscorer has been getting goals in a variety of ways, and this time he banked it off the skate of Jordie Benn for his 12th goal in 12 games. Doughty drilled Alex Goligoski with a huge hit just seconds later, and the Kings looked to be turning it on.
Unfortunately, the penalty kill giveth and the penalty kill taketh away, and Cody Eakin made it 2-2 a minute before the intermission after another Ellerby penalty. Yes, this one (for hooking) was a no-doubter. Goligoski moved the puck ahead to Eakin, and Eakin entered the zone while chipping the puck forward. Martinez fumbled the puck, Eakin did a great job of controlling the bounce, and with a clean look he beat Jonathan Quick with a backhand to tie the game. It was the most saveable of the goals Quick allowed on a bit of an off-night, and it did a number on Los Angeles heading into the second intermission.
Though the Kings have generally been firing on all cylinders in the third period, the same spirit wasn't present tonight. More lackluster defense resulted in a Dallas lead early on. After a driving Reilly Smith was blocked off by Voynov and Lewis, the puck was left alone in the corner, and Cody Eakin threw the puck through the goalmouth. Scuderi was manning the crease but couldn't intercept, and Dwight King didn't see Brenden Morrow make his way down next to Quick. At that point it would have been harder for Morrow to NOT score, and although he mostly whiffed on the tap-in, he got enough on it to sneak it under the pad of Quick.
Dallas continued to control the play despite LA finally getting a power play opportunity, and a short time later, Jamie Benn beat Jeff Carter cleanly on a faceoff. Trevor Daley flung the puck into traffic in front of the net, Benn threw the rebound back towards Quick, and though Quick's pad was there, the second rebound left a wide-open net for Jaromir Jagr. Jagr's 674th career goal put Dallas up 2, and Los Angeles just didn't have it in them to make up the deficit tonight. The game opened up for the final ten minutes and provided further opportunities for both squads. Unfortunately, Lehtonen remained in control, and it was apparent it wasn't the Kings' night even before the late empty netter by Antoine Roussel.
The shot margin was 33-22 Kings, though that was a tad misleading. The first line of Dallas was superb, and the Kings' forwards simply weren't as effective in making the Dallas D work. But the forwards were the least of Darryl Sutter's worries tonight. He put the blame squarely on the defense and the goaltending postgame, and it'll be interesting to see how the team adapts before Saturday's game against Calgary. The Kings still sit squarely in a playoff position, but even excluding empty net goals, they have allowed four goals in three of their last four games. Maybe we can try wrapping up a game without a spectacular third period, eh?