Yeah, the playoff spot was basically a given at this point. Why are we so happy about this? Because the Los Angeles Kings clinched it with one of their most complete performances of the season, against the Phoenix Coyotes.
We've talked about how impressive Tanner Pearson has been since the All-Star Break. Pearson had an off night on Monday against the Minnesota Wild, but he bounced back and started off the scoring against Phoenix. Jeff Carter had a beauty of an assist, making a cross-ice feed that Pearson one-timed into the top corner. The shot was hard and accurate, and Thomas Greiss was helpless. Bad sign for the Coyotes: with a playoff spot on the line, the goal didn't spark much of a response. Might be the effects of playing a back-to-back in the opposition's barn. The first period remained relatively quiet, aside from Jordan Nolan endearing himself further among Coyotes fans. His hit on Martin Hanzal was late, high, put the Kings shorthanded, and forced Martin Hanzal to miss a few shifts. Not his finest moment.
Moving on! Each team had a power play in the first period which was ineffective, and on LA's second man advantage early in the second, the first minute wasn't all that promising. Heck, the penalty kill had more offensive zone time than the beginning of that PP. But Drew Doughty decided that it was job to make it a successful power play; after Anze Kopitar and Alec Martinez moved the puck along to him, Doughty stickhandled once and beat Greiss as Carter provided traffic in front. That second goal finally opened things up a bit, as the teams combined for ten scoring chances in the period. Lauri Korpikoski hit the crossbar after two Kings collided in the offensive zone, and both Jonathan Quick and Thomas Greiss pulled out a few good saves. Greiss made the biggest one, denying a Carter breakaway seconds before the buzzer sounded.
That save kept it at 2-0, and kept the Coyotes with a sliver of hope in the third. After all, the Kings' normal invincibility to third period comebacks has faded as of late, and the Coyotes overcame a third-period deficit in LA just two weeks ago. However, after Phoenix was denied on a couple of scoring chances early on, they generated next to nothing in the final 15 minutes. Midway through the period, the Kings scored twice in 40 seconds to seal the deal. After an evening of helping his teammates out, Carter had a 2-on-1 with Tyler Toffoli, and there was no way he was passing. He scored to make it 3-0. The foot remained on the gas as Justin Williams hit the post just 10 seconds later, and when Shane Doan tripped Drew Doughty to put LA back on the power play, it was only a matter of time.
In eight seconds, five Kings touched the puck. Faceoff win by Carter back to Slava Voynov, who gave the puck to Alec Martinez, who fed Marian Gaborik, who delivered a perfect cross-ice pass to Kopitar. Bingo. Kopitar's one-timer hit the back of the net, and the celebrations were on.
Jonathan Quick finished off his sixth shutout of the season and the Kings' twelfth shutout of the season (new record!), and the Kings locked up the third seed in the Pacific Division. One of the most complete performances of the season for the Kings; when you can only really find fault with the fourth line, things are all right. Back at it against the San Jose Sharks tomorrow, where a win all but assures a first-round matchup with... the Sharks. Bleh.