Los Angeles Kings @ Minnesota Wild, Game #73 Recap: That’s Why We’ve Got Alternate Captains
Three guys who have worn the “A” this season get an “A” for effort in a dramatic overtime win in Minnesota.
At what point were you at your lowest last night? Was it after Trevor Lewis was reported as “questionable to return”? Was it when Eric Staal tied the score at 2-2, ensuring a tense battle for survival in the third period? Was it after Joel Eriksson Ek put the Wild up 3-2 in the final three minutes of the game, seemingly dealing a major blow to LA’s playoff hopes? (Probably.) For me, it was seconds after that, when NBCSN reminded me that the Kings’ last loss after leading by two was that damn Chicago game. It felt like a loss in that vein, equally disheartening and damaging.
As you know now, the thoughts that flooded my brain after that came too soon. LA got up off the canvas and delivered a one-two punch that earned them one, then two, points in the standings.
It wasn’t supposed to be this dramatic, after the Kings took -- no, earned -- a 2-0 lead in the first half of the contest. A strong road first period (with no goals against, please) was crucial and LA delivered, playing the Wild evenly and ceding few chances against. I counted one, maybe two sloppy zone exits over the course of the twenty minutes, as the three defensive pairs we’ve seen most often over the last few weeks kept their houses in order. As an added bonus, LA took the lead shortly after play was stopped due to a puck-to-upper-body-of-ref situation. (He was fine.) That stoppage allowed Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown to stay out with Tanner Pearson, and Pearson scored nine seconds later.
Jeff Carter’s subsequent power play goal six minutes into the second put LA in the enviable position of having a multiple-goal lead, although as we’ve seen so often this season, those leads are often fleeting. The Kings let this lead go before intermission, as Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise outmaneuvered Christian Folin and Derek Forbort before Staal beat Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin for LA’s second. Doughty and Muzzin were on for Pearson’s goal and John Stevens elected to keep that pair intact for the second period; I generally endorse the strategy, but it didn’t pay off last night.
The third period actually saw a decent bounceback from the Kings, and aside from a couple of Minnesota flurries, they were well on their way to sending the game to overtime without incident. Then Joel Eriksson Ek’s line victimized the only defensemen who hadn’t been scored on, as a flailing Nate Thompson couldn’t stand in for the roaming Alec Martinez and Dion Phaneuf. Eriksson Ek’s goal was legitimately devastating, and I thought the night would belong to Minnesota.
Of course, I was wrong, and last night belonged to the three Kings who have worn an “A” on their uniform this season. Brown was already LA’s best forward before the final minute; he made that excellent pass to set up Pearson, posted a team-best 61.1% Corsi For%, and was on the ice for five high-danger scoring chances at 5v5 while allowing zero the other way. Drew Doughty had already picked up an assist on the first two goals in regulation, and though he still seems to be struggling on defense compared to his usual self, he rounded back into more recognizable form. The two then topped themselves, combining for a picturesque game-tying goal.
John Stevens would later claim that the play went exactly as drawn up during the preceding timeout, and I believe it; Doughty’s effort to create a lane couldn’t have been any better, and Brown still can deflect pucks in front as well as any King. I was content with the Kings pulling a point out of a hat, but then the third “A”-wearer came through with his second goal of the game. Anze Kopitar — who led all Kings in ice time after covering for the injured Lewis and posted his seventh 25-minute game of the season, tops among NHL forwards — is the rock of the Kings’ offense, but nights like this remind us why we missed Jeff Carter so much. His eighth shot attempt of the game was the winner.