The Kings have resisted calling their current seven-game trip, their longest of the season, a make-or-break journey. But given the tight playoff race in the Pacific Division, where four teams are separated by only one point behind front-running Vegas, the East Coast swing can go a long way toward determining where the Kings finish in that race.
And given those stakes, the trip couldn't have begun much better for the Kings, who got two goals from their fourth line and 35 saves from goalie Jonathan Quick on Friday in a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers.
"It was a big start for us," said Nick Shore, who scored one of those fourth-line goals. "To get this one tonight certainly puts us going in the right direction."
For Shore, playing for only the second time since Jan. 23, the goal was his first in nearly a month while lineman Jonny Brodzinski's score, which bounced off a Florida player and into the net in the second period, proved to be the game-winner.
"You start a long trip, it's always important to get off on the right foot," said Kings coach John Stevens, whose team has won three in a row and five of its last six. "It's a good two points to start the trip."
Aaron Ekblad's first-period goal put the Panthers up 1-0, but Shore evened things for the Kings less than four minutes into the second period, taking a pass from Andy Andreoff in the middle of the right circle, then walking into the crease and flipping the puck through three Panthers and over Florida goalie Harri Sateri.
Quick went to work after that, making 16 saves in the second period alone — although he also got some help from the goalpost, which stopped a dangerous chance from Evgenii Dadonov. It was Quick's second win in nine games.
"I thought Johnnie was really good early," Stevens said. "That allowed us to get our feet on the ground."
It also allowed Brodzinski to put the Kings ahead to stay late in the middle period, reaching back for a poor Derek Forbort pass in the high slot and backhanding it toward the goal, where it struck Florida's Denis Malgin and deflected into the net.
Anze Kopitar added an insurance goal 25 seconds into the third period to put the game away.
"It was a team effort from the start," Shore said. "It's kind of on us for everybody to chip in, be a part of getting two points."
But it's just one game; there are six more over the next 10 days before the Kings head home and Shore said the team will continue to take them one at a time.
"It's important that we didn't look past tonight," he said. "We're certainly not looking ahead. We're just focused on this one. Now we'll regroup and get ready to go tomorrow."
Friday's win may ultimately prove costly, however, since the Kings lost center Trevor Lewis with less than five minutes to play after he slammed headfirst into the end boards following a dangerous check from Florida's Jared McCann. His status for Saturday's game in Tampa is uncertain.
AT TAMPA BAY
When: 4 p.m. PST, Saturday.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: The Lightning not only have the best record in the NHL, but they've been particularly tough at home, losing just five times in regulation in 24 games. Tampa Bay will retire Vincent Lecavalier's No. 4 in pregame ceremonies. Lecavalier played 14 seasons for the Lightning, scoring 383 goals, notching 491 assists and winning a Stanley Cup. But he retired a King. Tampa Bay won this season's first meeting with the Kings 5-2 at Staples Center in November.