It was only fitting that goaltender Stephane Fiset had the puck in his grasp when the final horn sounded in the Kings' 3-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday afternoon.
After taking responsibility for the team's one-goal loss to Dallas earlier in the week, Fiset made 10 key stops in the third period and Sean O'Donnell scored the winning goal as the Kings held off a late charge by the Coyotes before 14,687 at the Great Western Forum.
"It was very important for myself to come back strong from a bad game and it was important for the team to come back too," said Fiset, who improved to 10-4-1 in his last 15 home starts. "It's good that we won because it can only help prepare ourselves for the playoffs."
Phoenix made the finish interesting when the Coyotes, on a power play, had several good scoring chances in the final minute but either missed the net or were stopped by Fiset.
"It was like a playoff hockey game," Fiset said. "There were so many players right there at the end, there was big traffic [in front of the net]. The only thing worse was probably traffic on the 405 [Freeway]."
With the win, the Kings are now seven games over .500 at 32-25-11 and with San Jose's loss to Colorado on Saturday, they need 15 points to clinch their first playoff berth since the 1992-93 season.
The Kings, who scored four first-period goals in a 4-3 victory at Phoenix on March 10, took control with first-period goals by Rob Blake and Glen Murray. For Blake, his 20th tied a career high and Murray's 24th moved him into a tie with Yanic Perreault for the team lead.
Phoenix, however, was able to tie the score with goals by Oleg Tverdovsky and Daniel Briere 29 seconds apart in the second period.
"I thought we had a great first period," King Coach Larry Robinson said. "They kind of took the momentum away from us after scoring on the power play with those two quick goals. We kind of got set back on our heels there."
King center Ian Laperriere did not record a point but played a key role in the win with several plays that do not show up in the final game summary.
Midway through the third period, Laperriere, an important penalty killer for the Kings, won a faceoff against Phoenix's Jeremy Roenick and passed the puck back to O'Donnell inside the Kings' blue line. With King right wing Sandy Moger charging hard to the net, Phoenix goaltender Jim Waite was blocked enough for O'Donnell's shot to slip between his skates to give the Kings a 3-2 lead at 12:41. It was O'Donnell's first winning goal in his three-year NHL career.
"We controlled the hockey game and then we lose when [the Kings] score a goal like that," said Roenick, who was credited with only six wins in 15 faceoffs. "I'm winning draws all [game] and the one draw that I lose, they get a screen shot and [Waite] can't see it and it goes in. How much bad luck can you have?"
By defeating Phoenix for the second time in 11 days, the Kings finished 2-2 against the Coyotes this season and are 23-17-5 against Western Conference teams.
The Kings, however, have to be concerned with their tendency to blow leads the way they did against Phoenix (twice) and have in their last several games.
"I don't think that we're playing different than we did at the beginning of the season," Fiset said. "It's just that the other teams keep working and they get back into games. [But] it really shouldn't matter if we get the lead or not. We just have to keep playing the same way."
The Kings still have a dominating 26-4-2 record when they score first and 18-1-3 when they lead after one period, but they have struggled to keep leads since the Olympic break.
Robinson said his players struggle when they stop being forceful on the ice.
"We definitely let up in the hitting department," said Robinson of the team's poor second period. "It's not so much that we intimidate the other team, we just seem to play better when we're being physical. There are better reactions from everybody when we're finishing our checks and we're aggressive in all of the plays that we do. When we sit back and think about what we have to do and play too passive, we aren't effective."