The Kings won’t see the Vegas Golden Knights again this season unless they match up in the playoffs.
Anze Kopitar surely gave Vegas something to think about in the meantime. It might even resonate beyond the spring. Kopitar carried the puck from outside the blue line and skated past two defenders before he outwaited Vegas goalie Maxime Lagace and deposited the puck into a gaping net.
It finished a two-goal second period in which the Kings were otherwise thoroughly outplayed, but it helped them earn a 4-1 victory at T-Mobile Arena to impressively sweep the home-and-home set and give goalie Jack Campbell his first NHL win.
Campbell, in his first NHL start since 2013, found himself against his former minor league teammate Lagace. Two years ago, the two were farmhands in the Dallas Stars organization and had suited up together for the Texas Stars and Idaho Steelheads. Campbell got here through a career rebirth that was justified Tuesday by his 41 saves to also support unassisted goals by Kyle Clifford and Tyler Toffoli on an all-around opportunistic night for the Kings.
Toffoli grabbed the puck from a missed exchange between Vegas’ Deryk Engelland and Reilly Smith and beat Lagace with a wrist shot for his 21st goal this season and second in three games.
Kopitar’s goal made it 3-1.
“I saw [Luca Sbisa] kind of a little flat-footed and I figured I’ll try to go around him and it worked out,” he said.
“We didn’t get discouraged. Right after that goal, we got our legs underneath us and really started playing the way we wanted to play.”
Clifford had forced a 1-1 tie for the Kings at the first intermission by being in perfect position to one-time an egregious back pass by Vegas’ Ryan Carpenter.
The Kings needed to have a strong start considering Vegas was 24-5-2 at home. Coach John Stevens said before the game that “this reminds me of Winnipeg when they first come into the league [in 2011], when they just absolutely blitz you the first 10 minutes; you had to be ready to go.”
Sure enough, Vegas induced a penalty on a three-on-two just 29 seconds into the game and again got the game’s first goal when William Karlsson jammed in a pass from Jonathan Marchessault at 5:27. It was Karlsson’s 34th goal, third-best in the league.
From that point on, however, the Golden Knights couldn’t get the puck past Campbell.
“It just meant the world to me,” he said of the victory. “Since I got traded here, the guys here I can’t speak highly enough about. It was a really cool feeling, and one I’ll never forget.
“For me it was a little bit more than just another game. Of course, I want to prove to everybody, but most importantly my teammates, that they can count on me. It was kind of weird because this was probably the biggest game I’ve played in and I felt most comfortable just because of the surroundings in the locker room.”
Much of the animosity carried over from Monday. Drew Doughty and David Perron continued their feud and induced hooking penalties on each other. Noted Vegas tough guy Ryan Reaves got a boarding penalty on a hit on Derek Forbort, and a roughing penalty after a hit on Kopitar.
Vegas defenseman and former Kings player Brayden McNabb alluded to the dislike between the teams before the game.
“It’s always fun playing your old team,” McNabb said. “It’s added motivation for me. Definitely. A little chip on my shoulder. You always want to beat these guys. It’s fun. It’s fun to play against these guys.”
Vegas recalled former Kings draft pick Tomas Hyka, who played on a line with newcomer Tomas Tatar and Cody Eakin.