NEWARK, N.J. — The Los Angeles Kings’ chances of defending their Stanley Cup title might depend on their current five-game road trip.
The opener against the New Jersey Devils got them off to a good start.
Anze Kopitar had a goal and two assists, and the Kings used their size and strength to beat the Devils 3-1 on March 23 to snap a two-game losing streak.
“Every time you go on a long road trip, the first game is obviously very important,” Kopitar said. “It sets the tone. No disrespect to them, but they’re the only (team on the trip) not in a playoff position.
“This was supposed to be the easy game, but that was not the case. We wanted to make sure we were sharp right off the get-go.”
The Kings, who are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture heading into the final weeks of the season, dominated early. They outshot New Jersey 16-3 and took a 2-0 lead on goals by Andrej Sekera and Tyler Toffoli .
“We talked about needing to come out hard,” said Marian Gaborik, who like Kopitar assisted on the first-period goals. “It was the start of a road trip, a lot of travel. It’s a time change.
“We had to use our speed, use our forecheck. It was a big 20 minutes at the start. Second period, we slipped a little bit but then we came back.”
Jonathan Quick made 19 saves for the Kings, who won for the second time in five games.
The trip continues March 24 against the New York Rangers and then on March 26 against the New York Islanders. Los Angeles will also face Minnesota and then close out the trip at Chicago.
Scott Gomez scored for the Devils, who lost their second straight game and are on the verge of being knocked out of the Eastern Conference playoff race with nine games left.
Cory Schneider made 30 saves for New Jersey, which is in danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
The game also marked the return of veteran center Mike Richards to the Kings lineup after he spent 16 games with Manchester of the AHL. He didn’t register a point but set up a good chance by Trevor Lewis in the second period.
“At the start I was chasing it a bit,” Richards said. “After that, it was all right. I felt more comfortable as the game went on. You just want to go out there and help out and contribute.”
Kopitar was instrumental in ending the Kings’ skid. He earned the primary assist on the opening goal by Sekera and sealed the win early in the third period, putting the rebound of Jake Muzzin’s shot past Schneider for his 15th goal.
It gave the Kings a 3-1 lead, and the Devils never seriously threatened until the closing moments when they pulled Schneider for an extra skater.
Quick had kept the Kings in front minutes earlier, stopping recent call-up Reid Boucher with a glove save early in the period. He then stoned Jordin Tootoo and Travis Zajac in close during a Devils power play.
“We knew they were going to come out hard,” Tootoo said. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror. We’re all professionals. We can’t wait for the guy next to us to get the job done. You have to bring your work boots every night.”
The Devils didn’t in a one-sided opening period, and that allowed the Kings to take a 2-0 lead.
Kopitar did the work on Sekera’s first goal in 19 games and his first since the defenseman came to the Kings in a trade with Carolina in February.
Kopitar skated from the Devils’ left circle out to the blue line, and left the puck for Sekera, who skated back to the circle and ripped a shot into the top of the net against a helpless Schneider.
Toffoli’s 21st goal came with the Kings on a 5-on-3 power play late in the period. Gaborik held the puck in the right circle and made a brilliant cross-ice pass that Toffoli snapped into an empty net.
Gomez scored his seventh of the season 2:12 into the second period.
(TOM CANAVAN, AP Sports Writer)
Source: The National Herald