Kings Gain a Little Ground


If there is a countdown to the playoffs for the Kings, let it begin now. After Wednesday night's 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks, the Kings have only 12 games left to either climb into the playoffs or mothball their skates for the summer.

With Phoenix losing to New Jersey, the Kings are three points behind the Coyotes for the eighth and last spot in the playoffs, which at this point, seem a lot closer than they did before they dropped the puck at San Jose Arena.

And once that puck was on the ice, chances are it was being launched at Felix Potvin, who spent most of the night swatting away pucks as if he was mad at them.

"The best part of this is getting the chance to play when the team is doing so well," said Potvin, who was being buried at Vancouver and was even sent to the minors.

This was a major league performance. Potvin turned away 39 of 40 shots and improved his record with the Kings to 7-2-2. Any more games like this one and Potvin, who is in the last year of his contract, can add a few more zeros to the bottom line.

"The bottom line was the Cat stole the game for us," said Luc Robitaille, who had a goal and an assist. "He's been making all the solid saves and tonight he stole the game. When you have a goalie who plays like that, it really pumps you up."

The Kings could use some of that, of course. They are 7-1-2 since Rob Blake went to the Colorado Avalanche and maintained their course of slowly picking up ground. The only problem is there isn't much time left.

"We wanted to have a sense of urgency since the beginning of the season," Coach Andy Murray said. "But now it's even more pronounced."

Eric Belanger's goal three minutes into the second period staked Potvin to a 2-1 lead that would have seemed much safer if the Kings could have stayed away from penalties, which they didn't.

The Sharks had four power plays in the period, but failed to score on any of them.

The Kings, who were outshot, 25-12, in the first two periods, didn't take their first shot on goal in the third period until nine minutes were gone.

But two minutes later, they had a two-goal lead when Bryan Smolinski found the puck on his stick after Robitaille scooted it across the slot from the right side, then guided it past Evgeni Nabokov. Smolinski's 23rd goal gave the Kings a 3-1 lead with 9:32 to go.

Ian Laperriere scored his eighth goal with 1:27 to go for a little insurance . . . which Potvin didn't need.

The Sharks outshot the Kings, 40-20, and had only one goal to show for it. And Potvin blanked the Sharks on all seven of their power play opportunities.

San Jose Coach Darryl Suter said no one has played any better against the Sharks all season.

The Kings scored first, even though that seemed like a remote possibility when San Jose twice had a man advantage in the early going of the first period.

Potvin used up a couple of his lives, turning away a shot by Todd Harvey from point-blank range on a power play breakaway, then somehow deflected a shot by Mike Ricci from the crease on another power play.

Deflating the Sharks' power play must have turned on the Kings, who scored with 7:42 to go. Ziggy Palffy faked a slap shot from the right side and instead got the puck to Robitaille streaking down the left side. Robitaille delivered the puck into the back of the net for his 34th goal.

The Sharks evened it at 1-1 when Gary Suter beat Potvin from the left side.

Now, go figure the NHL schedule. The season started in October, the Kings played the Sharks twice in the first 5 1/2 months and now play four times in the last two weeks.

At this rate, you would have to say the Kings and Sharks are going to know each other pretty well.



If the playoffs started today, the Kings would be left watching:

Team: Points

1. Colorado: 101*

2. Detroit: 95*

3. Dallas: 85*

4. St. Louis: 93

5. San Jose: 82

6. Edmonton: 82

7. Vancouver: 82

8. Phoenix: 78

9. Kings: 75

*--Division leaders

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