Talk about getting up off the mat.
The Kings were where they’ve been for most of the past two weeks — playing from behind with their playoff aspirations on the ropes.
Then the right hand of the Ducks’ Ryan Kesler felled Jeff Carter in a second-period fight, and that was the jab the Kings desperately needed. Carter returned to the game and made a masterful pass to Tyler Toffoli for the game-winning goal as the Kings rallied for a 4-1 win against the Ducks at Staples Center.
Carter’s 30th goal, on an empty net, capped the Kings’ third win in nine games. It was made special by the return of goalie Jonathan Quick and Kings Coach Darryl Sutter’s 216th win to become the franchise’s all-time leader in coaching wins.
Sutter finally got what he sought from his top players. In addition to Quick’s 32 saves, Toffoli scored twice, Dustin Brown scored, Anze Kopitar had two assists and Tanner Pearson had three assists.
“It’s the only way we’re going to make the playoffs,” Sutter said. “[If] those guys [were] held scoreless or shut down or outplayed by the other team’s top guys, we won’t make the playoffs. That’s real.”
It got plenty real in a game that turned downright nasty in the second period, and it revolved around respective captains Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks and Anze Kopitar of the Kings. Getzlaf was shaken by a hit by Brayden McNabb. Then Kopitar hit Sami Vatanen in the head area in one of a series of skirmishes before a 10-player pileup at one point.
Carter’s fight was the third of his NHL career and first with the Kings. He did not talk to reporters afterward. Kopitar did, and said the Kings got back to their identity.
“That’s the game we play,” Kopitar said. “Not give up a whole lot — obviously one [goal] tonight — and I think if we give up one, even though we’re not a scoring machine, we’ll win more likely than not. That’s kind of like our formula and has been for the past five, six years.”
Carter slipped a backhand pass under the skates of Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler to Toffoli on a two-on-one to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. Seventeen seconds later, Brown expertly tipped Kevin Gravel’s shot that was going wide.
That further swayed a game that the Ducks led, 1-0, on Andrew Cogliano’s tip of Kesler’s shot-pass in the first period. Jakob Silfverberg stole Toffoli’s pass at center ice to start the rush.
Anaheim has not won consecutive games since Jan.19. Its frustration was capsulized by Corey Perry’s late two-hand slash to a prone Quick. The Ducks were 22-1-1 when leading after two periods.
“You can’t do it every time,” Fowler said. “Credit to them. You could obviously tell that they were hungrier and more desperate in the third … but we made it easier on them than it should have been. In a tie hockey game, you can’t give up a two-on-one.”
Patrick Eaves made his Ducks debut after he landed at midnight Friday from Dallas for the afternoon game.
“I got my legs under me halfway through the first there,” Eaves said. “I was turned upside down for a second but, I tell you what, I’m really excited to be here and just be a part of this group. It’s only been one game, but I feel like I’m part of it.”
Eaves induced the Kings into two penalties in the first period and played more than 16 minutes. Now he and the Ducks enter a bye week on a down note.
The Ducks went 0 for 4 on the power play and finished February 1 for 31. They took 33 shots but perhaps weren’t hard enough on Quick, who got the win against former teammate Jonathan Bernier.
“He’s a world-class goalie, battled hard,” Carlyle said of Quick. “Our goalie played well for us, too. We can’t be discouraged with what Bernie brought to the game. They involved their D-men more later in the game, and we didn’t seem to be able to handle that.”
Marian Gaborik was a healthy scratch for the Kings. Jordan Nolan was activated from injured reserve and took what appeared to be a knee-on-knee hit from Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer in the third period.