Adrian Kempe won’t have to exaggerate his first NHL goal when he describes it to his grandkids someday.
It was far from a flukey bounce that gets better in the retelling, but a genuine highlight packed with a bigger meaning for the Kings in their playoff push.
Kempe spun away from Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson and wristed a shot short side with 12:14 remaining in the third period to give the Kings a 4-2 win Saturday at Staples Center.
The Kings pulled to three points behind the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It sets up a huge game against St. Louis on Monday, and the Kings will have momentum from their first back-to-back wins in more than a month.
Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik also scored as the Kings solved Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer, previously 2-0 lifetime against them.
Kempe was recalled last month to inject offense, and his goal shook the Kings out of a stagnant third-period start in which the Capitals dominated possession.
“There was a lot of time left in the game,” Kempe said, “[but] I think it was an important goal and it was a really great feeling to finally put it in.”
Said defenseman Alec Martinez: “He’s been really good for us. He’s brought a lot of energy and a lot of speed. Any time you see a guy get his first NHL goal, it’s pretty awesome.”
The Kings had managed a 2-2 tie going into the third period thanks to a power-play goal for the fifth straight game. Kopitar tipped Jeff Carter’s shot for his ninth goal and third in four games. Capitals defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk watched it from the penalty box because of his delay-of-game infraction for shooting the puck over the glass.
“We started to play better after the first,” Kempe said. “We had a lot of opportunities after the first period. I think we bounced back after that and I think we came back to our game.”
The score certainly could have tilted more toward the Capitals in the first 40 minutes. Alex Ovechkin missed an open net, Nicklas Backstrom hit the crossbar and Jakub Vrana shot the puck right into a sprawled Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in another prime chance.
Quick made his second straight start, if there were any doubts about whose net it is these days. Ben Bishop sported a new Kings-themed mask, but he didn’t get to show it off. He’s winless in his two starts with the Kings and had a 2-6-1 record against Washington anyway.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter reiterated before the game that the acquisition of Bishop was for the longevity of Quick and that he needs both to play like No.1 goalies.
“Quite honest, we are in a position where we’re fighting for a playoff spot because our goaltending, in February, hit the wall,” Sutter said.
There wasn’t much Quick could do to prevent Washington’s second goal at the start of the second period. The Kings gave up a rush and T.J. Oshie batted in the puck out of midair at 47 seconds following an attempt by Johansson.
Gaborik scored on a snap shot late in the first period for his ninth goal. Kopitar did the work when he maneuvered around Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen for a shot that created the rebound.
It was only the second even-strength goal by the Kings in five games.
Carter added an empty-net goal with 1.4 seconds left, his 31st goal of the season.
On the other side of the Kings’ excellent special teams ledger, their penalty- killing unit cracked fewer than five minutes into the game. Vrana redirected Shattenkirk’s shot, with Drew Doughty serving a slashing penalty.
The Kings had killed 48 of the previous 50 penalties.