LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Jack Johnson is grateful the Los Angeles Kings are back after nearly four weeks on the road. He’s even more pleased they’re right back in the Western Conference playoff picture with a grit they didn’t possess before leaving town.
Drew Doughty scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period, Wayne Simmonds had two goals, and the Kings returned from a 10-game road trip with a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves and Anze Kopitar scored a 170-foot short-handed empty-net goal with 1:14 to play for the surging Kings in their first home game since Jan. 26.
“That road trip got old in a hurry,” said Johnson, who had an assist and blocked three shots. “You woke up for a couple of games and you wondered, ‘What city am I in?’ It’s so nice just to sleep in your own bed.”
The Kings are still recovering from their epic jaunt across North America while the Grammys and the NBA all-star weekend took over Staples Center, but they’ve maintained the positive energy from their 6-1-3 trip. Los Angeles built on its three-game winning streak right before leaving town, earning 15 points and extending a franchise record-tying streak of 11 consecutive games with at least one point.
With timely scoring and a late defensive stand that made up for a few early lapses, Los Angeles opened a six-game homestand by splitting the four-game season series with Minnesota. The Kings’ 10th win in 14 games pushed them edged ahead of Minnesota for fifth place in the improbably bunched conference standings with 72 points.
The Wild are in sixth with 70 points—and so are Chicago, Dallas, Nashville and Calgary.
“We know this is a critical time now in the schedule for us,” Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said. “We’ve got some home games, we’re in a tight race to get into the playoffs, and the opportunity is there for us. We can control our own destiny with a strong homestand. … As I (said) to the players, we need to be a lot better than we were tonight in order to win games as we get going here.”
The Kings were awfully sharp on the go-ahead goal with 15:21 left. Captain Dustin Brown took a drop pass from Ryan Smyth and found Doughty across the ice for a picture-perfect shot producing the defenceman’s ninth goal of the season.
“They made a nice play on their game-winner,” Minnesota forward John Madden said. “We had our chances to put it away, but we didn’t have any luck around the net. There were a lot of loose pucks we just couldn’t get our sticks on. You just have to keep going and keep playing hockey.”
Los Angeles killed two late penalties, including a Minnesota power play for the final 1:59. Kopitar all but clinched it when he grabbed a loose puck in the Kings’ faceoff circle and fired it the length of the ice into the Wild’s open net.
“Our power play was not as good as it needed to be in the big moments, as it has been for most of the year,” Wild forward Matt Cullen said. “They’re very good on the (penalty-kill), and they’re very good on the faceoffs, so that makes it tough. … We didn’t maintain that consistent level of pressure throughout the game, and it cost us.”
Brent Burns had a goal and an assist for the Wild, who have lost four of six. Eric Nystrom also scored, and Niklas Backstrom stopped 26 shots.
Simmonds scored first on a power play during the first period, connecting from the slot for his first goal in 17 games since Jan. 10. Simmonds then hustled to grab a puck in the corner and put his shot over Backstrom’s blocker in the second period for his second career multigoal game.
Simmonds often excels when he plays on the Kings’ top line with Kopitar, and Murray wasn’t surprised when it happened again.
“I think it’s huge,” Simmonds said. “It establishes our game at home. Last time we were at home, we didn’t play too well, so we thought about that and we wanted to put the right mark on it right from the start this time.”
NOTES: The Kings wore their purple-and-gold vintage jerseys while honouring Bob Berry, the former Los Angeles forward and coach who put together the famed Triple Crown line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor in 1979. … C Jed Ortmeyer made his debut with Minnesota. The former Sharks forward was recalled Wednesday to fill in for captain Mikko Koivu, who’s out for a few weeks with a broken left index finger, and C Kyle Brodziak, who didn’t travel to California because of an illness. D Cam Barker also sat out with an undisclosed upper-body injury from Tuesday’s win over Edmonton. … Taylor Swift, Green Bay LB Clay Matthews and Southern California QB Matt Barkley attended the game.