Column: Kings are a factor in wild-card race after 3-2 win over Coyotes
Defenseman Jake Muzzin was telling reporters how he had scored the late goal that gave the Kings a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday when teammate Dustin Brown, walking down a corridor in the visitors’ locker room at Gila River Arena, saw Muzzin holding court and decided to add his own commentary.
“Hero of the game, Jake Muzzin. Whoo!” Brown said in his best pseudo-announcer voice.
Muzzin’s backdoor power-play goal with 1 minute 49 seconds left in the third period, set up on a perfect pass from Jeff Carter, was the statistical difference as the Kings began their post-All-Star game push toward the playoffs with a generally strong performance.
But impressive efforts by center Anze Kopitar, who had a goal and two assists, and winger Jordan Nolan, who scored his third goal in two games against Arizona this season and fourth goal overall, also were crucial in keeping them a factor in the wild-card race.
“There’s no secret. Being in the standings where we are, points are huge right now,” Kopitar said. “Tonight the two points were very important.”
The Kings inched a point ahead of Calgary for the second West wild-card spot and have two games in hand on the Flames.
“We have to take advantage of it,” Muzzin said. “That comes by winning in regulation, especially in your division.”
In many ways, the Kings have been chasing a playoff spot since their 4-6 start. They sorted out their problems in goal, with Peter Budaj claiming the starting job after Jonathan Quick was injured, but they’ve been unable to generate enough scoring to take off on a sustained run.
Their current three-game winning streak is their longest since they won five games in a row from Nov. 17 through 26, and they got that far only with a forceful drive in the third period Tuesday.
“We need points,” Muzzin said. “We need to play desperate and every point is crucial, so that was big for us to start this off on the right foot.”
Their footing seemed precarious in the early going. The Coyotes scored first, at 8:48 of the first period, after a shot by Connor Murphy appeared to hit Kings center Nic Dowd in front of the net and the puck squirted free. Jordan Martinook controlled it, turned, and slipped a shot through Budaj’s leg pads for his seventh goal this season.
The Kings pulled even at 10:51 after Drew Doughty’s blast hit Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn in front and Kopitar swooped in for the rebound, his sixth goal in an under-productive season.
“I didn’t think our start was the best,” Kopitar said. “But then I think second half of the first period, that goal woke us up. Even the second half of the first period was what we wanted to do, and we got it rolling.”
They still encountered some bumps. The Coyotes had two high-pressure shifts in the Kings’ zone late in the second period and took a 2-1 lead at 18:30 after Lawson Crouse’s shot popped up in the air and Ryan White converted the rebound.
The Kings responded 25 seconds later after Kopitar made a long lead pass to Jordan Nolan on the right wing. Nolan was bearing down on goalie Mike Smith, who extended his stick to try and poke the puck away, but Nolan got it past him.
Nolan doesn’t play with Kopitar often and he appreciated the chance.
“Any time you play with him you want to take advantage of it and you hope that you click and you keep getting opportunities,” Nolan said.
The Kings dominated the third period and tattooed the crossbar and posts before Muzzin slipped in to put away the pass from Carter.
“Nice play by him, lucky play by me, but we’ll take it,” Muzzin said.
Lucky or good, it kept their playoff drive going.
Where: Staples Center.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 790.
Update: Colorado has the NHL’s worst record (13-32-2) but earned one of its victories over the Kings with a 4-1 decision Nov. 15 at Denver. The Kings have lost their previous two home games, against Tampa Bay and San Jose. After Wednesday’s game, the Kings go on a four-game trip and won’t play at home again until Feb. 16.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen
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