Audible sounds of appreciation descended onto the ice, as if Pepsi Center the crowd couldn’t believe what was happening.
It was a superb display by a Hart Trophy candidate. He took over the game. He celebrated. He smiled. It was a legacy performance, one of the greatest statement games in the NHL this season.
Anze Kopitar scored four goals Thursday night in a 7-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche while matched against fellow MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon ... in the biggest game of the season to date for the Kings, on a difficult trip that Kopitar steered right into Kings history.
“I just felt all night that the puck was kind of following me around,” Kopitar said. “You really want to make the most of it. I got a couple of scoring opportunities. You really want to cash in. I guess it worked out for me tonight.”
Kopitar is the first Kings player to score four goals in a game since Luc Robitaille did it in 1993 against the Quebec Nordiques, who later moved to Colorado and became the Avalanche. After his fourth career hat trick, Kopitar has scored 33 goals, one short of his career high of 34 set in the 2009-10 season. Even before the game, Kings general manager Rob Blake said this was easily the best he has seen Kopitar play.
“He’s playing at a level that, [for] the first time, we’ve seen it for this long, this consistent,” Blake said.
Kopitar wouldn’t go near the statistics, or the Hart talk. The Kings won after again giving up the first goal and got two goals from Tobias Rieder and a quietly strong game from Nate Thompson to give them five points (of a possible six) on the trip so far.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if we won, 2-1,” Kopitar said. “It would have been just as special for us. Right now we’re in a position where we have the control in our hands, and if we take care of our business, we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Kopitar’s third goal chased Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov and was scored on a backhand shot after a move around Tyson Barrie and made the score 5-1. His fourth goal, on a snap shot from the right wing, victimized former teammate Jonathan Bernier. What did Kopitar’s teammates say to him as he skated by the bench?
“Keep shooting,” Thompson said. “It was one of those nights for him. We’re all happy for him because he’s usually the guy that’s dishing the puck. He’s usually a pass-first kind of guy, but he can score goals too. It was a pleasure to watch.”
Rieder came alive with a forehand shot on a breakaway when the Avalanche got caught in a line change, and he snapped a shot off the rush to cap the rout. Rieder, who played with Kopitar for team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey, was left shaking his head afterward.
“To be honest, it doesn’t really surprise me because he’s just such a good player,” Rieder said. “Now seeing it in practice, game in and game out, he’s just an unbelievable player and he just makes it look easy.”
Goalie interference chatter
Blake and Kings coach John Stevens said that the NHL’s decision this week to have the NHL’s situation room in Toronto have the “ultimate responsibility” on coach’s challenges for goalie interference is a step in the right direction.
“If you’re looking for consistency, you follow the same path as supplemental discipline,” Blake said. “You leave it to a committee. You might not always agree with the call, but it is a judgment call, but at least if you know there’s a group doing it, you’ll get a sense on how they’re doing it, so you’ll start seeing goals repeatedly and you’ll get a sense how they’ll call it.”
No changes were made to the criteria for how the rule is judged. Stevens has been frustrated with different officiating crews having varying interpretations of the rule, which has confused perceptions about it.
“I think there has to be contact,” Stevens said. “The goalie still has to be able to do his job in the blue paint, but let’s not go and micromanage what’s going on in the blue paint here to find a reason not to allow a goal.