For a few moments on Saturday it was easy to imagine the calendar had spun backward five years to the time the Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks dominated the NHL.
The Blackhawks, on a power play in the first period, repeatedly tried to set up Patrick Kane and were successful because the puck always seems to find elite players. Kane, still as feared a scorer as when the teams alternated as Stanley Cup champions in 2012-13-14-15, unleashed a shot from the right circle. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped it with his arm and shoulder. Kane got the puck again. Quick, tracking the puck well through traffic, again stopped it with the left side of his body, but the Blackhawks maintained possession. That created another one-on-one between Quick and Kane. Quick prevailed again, going to his knees to keep the puck in front of him before he froze it and got a stoppage.
It was 30 seconds of a rivalry reborn, a re-creation of the time these teams battled for supremacy instead of for position in the draft lottery. “Bringing back memories,” Kyle Clifford said with a smile.
The rest of the game — a 6-3 victory by the Kings at Staples Center that ended their 10-game losing streak — didn’t come close to matching that brilliant sequence. Neither team was capable of sustaining a high level because both have aged badly and have lost the defensive steadiness that became their trademark. The Kings have fired two coaches since they beat Chicago in the 2014 Western Conference final and won the second of their two Cup titles in three seasons; the Blackhawks dismissed three-time Cup winner Joel Quenneville four months ago and are enduring their own painful rebuilding process.
Ah, that. After scoring a season-high six goals the Kings (24-33-8) sat 15th in the West and 29th in the NHL. The Blackhawks (27-29-9), fading after a surge had carried them within dreaming distance of a postseason berth, ranked 11th in the West and 24th in the league. Nostalgia has little significance to players in a season defined by frustration and struggle. “To win against anybody is satisfying,” Quick said in his typical unsentimental fashion. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. Just to get a win is big.”
The victory was their first since a 3-2 overtime decision at Philadelphia on Feb. 7 and their first at Staples Center since a 4-3 triumph over St. Louis on Jan. 21. The All-Star break, bye week, and a road-heavy schedule made Saturday’s game only their fourth on home ice since then, but it seemed like forever ago. “It’s just a way better feeling when you win,” interim coach Willie Desjardins said.
The Kings built a 3-0 lead in the first period on power-play goals by Dustin Brown and Sean Walker and an even-strength goal that Ilya Kovalchuk snapped past an often-shaky Corey Crawford. They gave it back on two goals by Brandon Perlini — the second set up on a stretch pass by Crawford during a bad line change by the Kings — and a shot by defenseman Connor Murphy that grazed the leg of Kings defenseman Kurtis MacDermid on the way to the net and rose past Quick’s reach at 6:57 of the second period.
Kings forward Adrian Kempe broke the tie at 8:08 of the second period. Linemate Jonny Brodzinski intercepted a pass by Kane — who was held scoreless — and passed to Kempe, who lifted a shot into the upper-left corner of the net for his 10th goal this season. It held up as his second winner after Brendan Leipsic padded the Kings’ lead to 5-3 when his shot from between the circles knuckled past Crawford at 4:54 of the third period and Brown added an insurance goal at 18:07 after Anze Kopitar forced a turnover.
“It’s kind of relief,” Kempe said of his emotions after his one-goal, one-assist performance. “It was a big win but I think everybody’s been in a good mood. Obviously there’s been frustration out there, but we stuck with it. We kept battling through it.”
Forward Austin Wagner, a rare bright spot in the Kings’ dismal season, left in the second period with a lower-body injury after absorbing a hit from Chicago defenseman Gustav Forsling. Desjardins said he expected Wagner to be examined on Sunday, a day off for the team.
At least the Kings had the consolation of a slump-busting win to enjoy until they reconvene for practice on Monday. “Just awesome,” Doughty described it, before pausing. “It feels really good,” he said, “but it’s hard to look past all those losses we had.”
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