LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Columbus Blue Jackets hit the Kings with the full force of their five-game winning streak and playoff desperation in the third period.
Jonathan Quick turned it all aside and kept Los Angeles rolling toward its own post-season goals.
Quick made 20 saves, Kyle Clifford scored the tiebreaking goal and the defending Stanley Cup champions slowed the Blue Jackets’ late-season surge with a 2-1 victory Thursday night.
Drew Doughty scored an early power-play goal as the Kings kept pace with San Jose for fourth place in the Western Conference by snapping Columbus’ streak one shy of the franchise record in a defence-dominated game.
While Columbus had more fury in the scoreless third period, the Kings methodically stayed out of trouble in their fifth win in eight games. With four games left in their seasons, the Kings and Sharks are both five points behind Anaheim, which has a game in hand atop the Pacific Division standings.
“Things are rounding into form,” Quick said. “We haven’t got in the playoffs yet, so we’ve got to keep playing like this. They’re one of the hotter teams in the league. They’ve beaten good teams, and we knew they were going to bring a lot of grit, a lot of energy to the game.”
The Kings got a defensive boost from Matt Greene, who returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 19 after missing 42 games with a back injury. The veteran defenceman was hurt in the Kings’ season opener and underwent surgery, but returned in time to get in game shape for the post-season.
“That’s the best way to get back into it—in a playoff atmosphere,” Greene said. “They’re battling for points, but we are, too. We’re still looking for home ice. We’ve got to keep eating up points and go into the playoffs playing well.”
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 21 shots and Dalton Prout scored his first NHL goal for the eighth-place Blue Jackets, who lost for the first time in four stops on their six-game trip. Columbus also lost forechecking forward Matt Calvert early in the third period to a broken finger that’s likely to keep him out “for a while,” coach Todd Richards said.
“It was a big blow losing him,” Richards added.
The Blue Jackets’ remarkable rally finally hit a snag in the form of Los Angeles’ Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie and his sturdy defence, but they’ve still got a solid playoff shot for a team that was last in the NHL on Feb. 25. Columbus is on a 16-5-5 roll since then, including five wins in seven road games.
The Blue Jackets beat Anaheim in overtime one night earlier to move clear of Detroit for eighth place in the West. The Red Wings and Dallas both trail Columbus by two points with two games in hand on the Blue Jackets, who have just three games left in their season.
“We battled tonight and we fell short, but we could have very easily gotten another goal or two and won this game,” Columbus defenceman James Wisniewski said. “Granted, they played well, but (with) five games in seven nights, three different time zones, we’ve done a pretty good job.”
The Kings went ahead during 4-on-3 play 8 1/2 minutes in when Doughty sidled up to the net and chipped the puck off Fedor Tyutin’s leg and past Bobrovsky for his sixth goal of the season—and the fifth in seven games for a defenceman who didn’t score a goal in the season’s first 28 games.
Los Angeles largely shut down Columbus’ offence, allowing just seven shots in the first 30 minutes, but Bobrovsky denied several good Kings scoring chances. Prout then put a long shot through traffic in front of Quick to even it for Columbus, with the defenceman scoring in his 30th NHL game.
Just 1:25 later, the Kings’ fourth line came through when Clifford fired home a rebound from close range for his first goal in 17 games since March 16.
“We were just a little bit lacking on the execution,” Prout said. “You have to give them credit. They won the game for a reason. They were relentless on the forecheck, and they did a lot of the things that we did to be successful earlier in this road trip. But we’re going to leave it all on the table in these last three games.”
Both goalies were sharp in the final period, which ended with a prolonged scrum after the final horn. Columbus’ Nick Foligno stayed on the ice after his teammates went to the dressing room, yelling and gesturing at the Kings.
“I think they were just upset that we won,” Clifford said.
NOTES: Los Angeles C Anze Kopitar got his 300th career assist. … With Greene’s return, the Kings scratched D Keaton Ellerby, who was acquired from Florida earlier this season while Greene and Willie Mitchell were out with long-term injuries. D Alec Martinez, a regular on last season’s championship team, hasn’t played since Robyn Regehr joined Los Angeles’ lineup April 4. … Columbus D Nikita Nikitin sat out with a lower-body injury, and D Adrian Aucoin missed his second straight game. … The Kings wore blue pregame warmup jerseys with the Dodgers’ famed script and red uniform numbers on the front. Longtime Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda dropped the ceremonial first puck, but forgot to shake the hand of Columbus’ Jack Johnson.