The Boston Bruins defeated the Kings 4-1 yesterday to enter a tie for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Brad Marchand opened the scoring with another wrist shot that zipped past Peter Budaj, and 11th year veteran David Krejci “iced” the game with an empty net goal from behind the defensive blue line.
Marchand’s goal was the result of a misplayed puck by Jake Muzzin, who had the puck bounce off his stick. After that, it was off to the races with only Kevin Gravel defending. Marchand’s wrist shot went past Budaj’s short side for the goal only 3:16 into the game. It was a microcosm of the woes that have troubled Muzzin this season. Muzzin was -2 yesterday and is now -13 since January 1.
The story could have been much different, as the Kings were the dominant team on offense in the first two periods. The Kings offense featured back-and-forth, run-and-gun action, with crisp passes leading to speedy entries into the offensive zone. It was a welcome break from the grinding, puck-battling possession game that has bored Kings fans a bit in recent seasons.
Unfortunately, only one goal came out of the Kings’ efforts. Jeff Carter and Kyle Clifford could not jam in rebounds in the first period. Dustin Brown hit the post. Anze Kopitar hit the post in the opening minute of the second period. Gravel’s shot from the point hit the iron. A partial breakaway by Carter and a nifty move to the backhand was stopped by the outstretched leg pad of Anton Khudobin. And a wide-open wrist shot by Drew Doughty was gloved by Khudobin.
The one goal the Kings scored was a beauty, however. It was Gravel’s first NHL goal. On the power play, Nic Dowd passed the puck off the boards to Alec Martinez, who took a shot from the point. The shot rebounded to Adrian Kempe. But instead of reflexively jamming the rebound right back into Khudobin, Kempe displayed professional poise and directed the puck through the legs of Kevan Miller to Gravel, who slammed it home. During the first intermission, Gravel told commentator Jim Fox that he never called for the puck, and that Kempe simply found him. The use of Gravel, Dowd, and Kempe in the power play was a clear sign that the Kings are urgently searching for solutions to energize their anemic offense.
But a cruel changeup shot off of a broken stick by David Pastrnak would be the game winner for the Bruins:
Boston clamped down on defense in the third period. The Bruins positioned up to four men behind the blue line and disrupted the Kings’ blue line entries. By doing so, the dump and chase of the Kings was rendered ineffective. What was the Kings’ clean, lively offense after two periods turned into a sloppy, viscous mess. Though the Kings led in shot attempts 68-48 in the game, they managed only three shots on goal in the third period.
The Bruins are now 5-1-0 since Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien as coach on February 7. The Calgary Flames defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 yesterday and are 7-2-1 in their last ten games. The Flames win leaves the Kings (and the Winnipeg Jets) four points out of the final Western Conference wild card spot. This season is now looking a lot like the 2014-15 season, in which the Flames and Jets clinched playoff spots but the Kings did not.
Notes: Boston play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards pronounced “Gravel” like the construction material... What would have been the first NHL goal for Peter Cehlarik was disallowed by a Kings challenge after replays showed the play was offside.