LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings have returned from the Olympic break with a revitalized game and a sharpened playoff focus.
The Carolina Hurricanes have neither, and they realize they’re running out of time to get it.
Alec Martinez scored the tiebreaking goal on a power play with 11:45 to play, Quick made 24 saves, and the Kings beat the Hurricanes 3-1 Saturday for their third victory in four days since the break.
Mike Richards scored his second goal since late November and Justin Williams added an empty-net goal for Los Angeles, which has roared out of the break with three wins in three cities in about 70 hours. The low-scoring Kings put up eight goals at Colorado and Calgary before holding off Carolina in their return to Staples Center.
After five scoreless power plays in the first two periods, the Kings finally converted on their sixth. Captain Dustin Brown got the puck behind the Carolina net and fed it to Martinez, who blasted a shot from the slot for his first goal since Jan. 9.
“It’s no secret we weren’t happy with our game before the break started,” Martinez said. “We worked on a lot of things, and we knew that when we came back, this would be crunch-time, playoff hockey.”
After two straight trips to the Western Conference finals and a Stanley Cup championship in 2012, the Kings know a few things about post-season grit—and they know they’ll need it just to reach the playoffs this time.
Los Angeles had a 1-8-1 stretch shortly before the Olympic break, falling back to the pack in the conference playoff race. The Kings are thoroughly revived after their time off and an eventful Olympics, which included gold medals for Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter along with two surprising victories for Slovenia and Anze Kopitar.
The rest of the Kings got several days off and several more days of practice, and both appear to be paying off.
“We’ve got to bring our best every night right now,” Quick said.
The Kings have won four straight overall, and Quick appears to be in top form after starting for the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi. He followed up his shutout of the Flames on Thursday with another strong performance against the Canes, including a handful of spectacular saves over the final two periods.
Andrej Sekera scored and Anton Khudobin stopped 28 shots for the Hurricanes, who have lost three straight on their five-game road trip out of the break.
Carolina has lost four straight overall, and the Hurricanes must visit NHL-leading Anaheim and powerful San Jose over the next three days.
“We didn’t have a lot of good scoring chances, but the ones we did, we didn’t capitalize on them,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “We’ve played nine periods now (since the break), and I think we’re happy with seven of the nine, but we haven’t gotten any points. We’re playing hard and playing well defensively, but we’re not generating the offence we need to get ahead in these games.”
Carolina played without forward Alexander Semin, who was scratched with a lower-body injury. The Russian Olympian was hurt Thursday at Dallas, but might return Sunday in Anaheim.
“He’s one of our best players, so it hurts having him out,” Carolina centre Riley Nash said. “But guys have to fill (the void).”
Los Angeles had a fruitless 4-on-3 advantage for 1:09 during the first period, but went ahead in the final minute on a sharp-angled shot by Richards, the veteran centre whose scoring touch has deserted him this season. The goal was his first in 13 games since Jan. 18 and just his second in 37 games since Nov. 25.
The Hurricanes tied it up just 41 seconds later on a goal by Sekera. The Slovak Olympian’s floating shot banked off Kings defenceman Robyn Regehr and beat Quick with 15 seconds left in the first.
“We played well and didn’t give them a whole lot,” Nash said. “It just seems like we’re finding ways not to win games and not to get points.”
NOTES: Carolina visited Staples Center for the first time since Oct. 21, 2010. … Carolina D Jay Harrison was a healthy scratch. He had played in 13 straight games. … Los Angeles scratched C Jordan Nolan and dressed young F Tanner Pearson for his 10th career NHL game. … Wayne Gretzky watched from a seat on the glass.