LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings might be the NHL’s best defensive team, and they hadn’t blown a two-goal lead in a loss in nearly a full calendar year.
The Toronto Maple Leafs broke down that defence and pulled out an impressive road victory despite nearly running out of goalies along the way.
Mason Raymond broke a tie with a short-handed goal early in the third period and the Maple Leafs snapped the Kings’ eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory Thursday night.
James Reimer made 31 saves in the final two periods after replacing the injured Jonathan Bernier for the Leafs, who have won four of five. Captain Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson also scored as Toronto beat both Southern California NHL clubs in a four-day span, albeit with a blowout loss at the Shark Tank sandwiched in between.
“We need every point that we can possibly get,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “We’re in desperation mode as every team is, and we just found a way to gut it out. We gave up a two-goal lead, and we found a way to get a big goal.”
After the Leafs erased that early 2-0 deficit, Raymond put them ahead with 14:54 to play. Kopitar was stopped by Reimer on a golden scoring chance, and Raymond alertly countered on a 2-on-1 rush with James van Riemsdyk for Raymond’s 19th goal.
Bernier gave up two goals in the first period of his first game back in Los Angeles against the team that traded him last summer, but then sat out the final two periods with a lower-body injury. Reimer filled in admirably, making a number of stunning saves.
“I wouldn’t blow it up too big,” Reimer said. “I just came in and did my job. Every time you go in is an opportunity.”
Reimer, who gave up six goals in San Jose, also got up quite slowly in the second period after getting an accidental blow to the head from Jarret Stoll when the goalie dived to stop a puck. Reimer eventually shook it off, but said he “got (his) bell rung.”
“I was sitting beside Bernier when that happened,” said Nazem Kadri, who had two assists. “I told him to take off his pads. I might have to throw them on.”
Marian Gaborik had an early goal and an assist in his home debut with the Kings, who fell just short of matching the longest winning streak in franchise history. Anze Kopitar had a power-play goal and Jonathan Quick stopped 26 shots in his first loss since Feb. 3.
After losing nine of 10 in a skid stretching into early February, the Kings won their final game before the Olympic break and hadn’t lost since. This loss prevented the Kings from equaling their record nine-game streak in 2010.
“It’s a stinger every time you lose after a pretty strong road trip,” Kopitar said. “We didn’t want to start off a homestand with a loss. I don’t know how they execute their system, but it seemed like they were skating and playing a tight-checking game. But it was just a case of our game tonight not getting it done.”
Gaborik still came through in the Slovak goal-scorer’s fourth game with the club, providing exactly the boost they sought for their sagging offence.
Wearing their Forum-blue-and-gold throwback jerseys, the Kings went ahead just 1:57 in when the rebound of Drew Doughty’s low shot went straight to Gaborik, who scored his seventh goal of the season.
“I think it’s coming along,” Gaborik said of his line with Kopitar and Justin Williams. “We had some chemistry with our line and created some chances, so I think it’s going the right way.”
Kopitar then scored a power-play goal on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Doughty, the gold medal-winning Canadian defenceman.
Gunnarsson tied it up early in the second with just his second goal in 67 games this season.
Bernier was the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft by Kings general manager Dean Lombardi. He played 62 games for Los Angeles over five NHL seasons, but never managed to beat out Quick, a lower-round pick by a previous regime who eventually became the Kings’ Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Lombardi traded Bernier to Toronto in a deal for Ben Scrivens—since traded to Edmonton—and Matt Frattin, who was sent to Columbus in the deal for Gaborik. Bernier lost 3-1 to the Kings in Toronto in December.
NOTES: Mike Richards accidentally shot the puck into teammate Justin Williams’ face with 3 minutes to play. Williams stayed in the game. … Toronto scratched C Peter Holland, who has the flu. … The Kings announced their 100th consecutive sellout at Staples Center since December 2011.