Kings get some momentum with win over Columbus

It figured that two last-place teams that have struggled to score goals would stay true to form when they faced each other Friday.

The only surprise is that the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings were one of those bottom feeders.

Still seeking an offensive rhythm and a place in the top eight in the West, the Kings on Friday took a small step forward with a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets before an announced sellout crowd at Staples Center.

Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier, starting two games in a row for the first time since January 2011, stopped 12 shots and lost his shutout with 2:35 left in the third, on a backhander by Nick Foligno.

“Sometimes when I don’t play much it feels like I get better in the second and third period, but I felt really good from the get-go,” Bernier said. “It was another great game by the guys: I think I had two shots in the second, or whatever. When you give up 13 shots, you’d better find a way to win.”

It took a while, but the Kings (5-5-2) found a way to win back-to-back games for only the second time this season.

Late in the second period, rugged winger Kyle Clifford swiped the puck from Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin at the Kings’ blue line and chugged up ice on the left wing on a two-on-one break. Clifford elected to shoot, a decision that was rewarded when the puck eluded goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky at 18:40.

It was Clifford’s first goal since the second game of the season and — surprisingly — represented the first time the Kings held a lead in four home games during this lockout-shortened season.

“I’d like to say that’s where I wanted to shoot, but sometimes I just close my eyes and put it on net,” Clifford said. “We haven’t had too many home games. We wanted to get on them early and get going and build off that.”

Nikitin unwittingly figured in the Kings’ second goal, scored during a five-on-three advantage. Anze Kopitar carried the puck into the offensive zone with speed before passing it to Mike Richards, on the left wing. Richards tried to pass the puck across the crease to Jeff Carter but the puck caromed off Nikitin’s foot and past Bobrovsky at 1:34 of the third period.

Bernier initiated the play and was awarded an assist, the second of his career. Richards got the goal, his 400th NHL point.

Although this wasn’t an artistic triumph, the Kings can’t afford to be picky about how they win.

They remain last in the Pacific Division and near the bottom of the Western Conference, though they have played fewer games than most of the teams they’re pursuing.

“I think as a team, at first I think we were working hard and the goals were not coming as we wanted to and I think we realize that if we work hard, we’ll get our bounce,” Bernier said.

“I think you look at that second goal, we got pretty lucky, but those are the type of goals that you want when you work hard. You want to find a way to finish that team.”

The Blue Jackets (4-8-2) played a solid game defensively but sit last in the Central Division. In an effort to jump-start the team, their president of hockey operations, John Davidson, fired General Manager Scott Howson on Tuesday. Howson’s successor, Jarmo Kekalainen, hasn’t been able to see his team yet because immigration regulations have kept him in his native Finland. Those problems are expected to be resolved soon.

The Kings have their own problems, but Bernier’s steadiness allowed them to give playoff MVP Jonathan Quick some rare and valuable practice time that could help them later.

“I think it’s been good these last few days for him to have some good work. I think that clearly he’s needed some really controlled practice time,” Coach Darryl Sutter said. “And so I talked to him [Thursday] and told him, ‘This is the only time we can get it. March is just about playing so you’ve got to have your game in order.’”

The Kings’ game isn’t in order yet. One step at a time is their order of business at the moment.