Judging by how the Kings went over to greet Jack Campbell at the horn, one would have thought it was a victory.
They tapped helmets with their beloved teammate in what looked like congratulations, but it was essentially apologies for not giving Campbell’s game any justice Tuesday.
The Kings trudged back to their dressing room with a 2-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in which Campbell’s career-high 46 saves was their only lifeline in a New Year’s Day downer.
“Unreal,” Jake Muzzin said. “He gave us a chance to be in that game. He played his heart out. Hell of an effort by ‘Soup’ [Campbell]. We’ve got to be better for him.”
In his first game back from knee surgery, Campbell’s only missed puck was a power-play shot by Brandon Pirri 3 minutes, 43 seconds into the third period, and that glanced off Campbell’s outstretched glove. He was still game to stop 19 other shots in the third period before Vegas wrapped it with Alex Tuch’s empty-net goal.
To think, Campbell felt off early in his first game since Nov. 10.
“I felt kind of brutal, actually,” Campbell said. “In the first period, I was kind of excited, nervous, but in a good way. But I haven’t felt that excited in a while. It took me 20 minutes to get kind of settled in. After that, I found my game.”
That hasn’t been difficult for Campbell at T-Mobile Arena and its booming sound system and party atmosphere. He got his first NHL win here last season in a 41-save effort that represented a career revival.
“I think it’s just a great building,” Campbell said. “The fans are amazing. They have a really good team over there. You’ve got to be on your A-game to play well against those guys. Credit to them, they always come out and play well and the fans always show up. It’s a fun building to play in. More fun to win here. Next time, hopefully.”
Fortunately for the Kings, that won’t be until the regular-season finale. In what could have jokingly been billed as the Hangover Bowl, Campbell looked like the only Kings player who didn’t play the night before. The Kings arrived at their hotel in Las Vegas less than a minute before midnight on New Year’s Eve and caught the fireworks show just after they stepped off the bus following a win in Colorado. It couldn’t have translated worse to Tuesday.
“You could just look at them, the group was tired,” coach Willie Desjardins said. “That’s the bottom line. We were just tired.”
The Kings were outshot 48-17 and did not put a shot on goal in the second period until almost the 18-minute mark. Tyler Toffoli was stopped by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on a breakaway early in the third period in probably their best chance.
It was the fourth matchup between the teams in a 24-day span.
“Like playoffs again,” Muzzin said. “I’ve seen enough of them for a while.”
Pirri’s goal had some controversy because replays showed Ryan Reaves might have played the puck with a broken stick. But the Kings didn’t challenge it and it hardly mattered in the big picture.
The Kings hit the halfway mark of the season last inthe Pacific Division and nine points out of a playoff spot. They had talked about gaining confidence and playing better in their own zone and, despite the loss, Desjardins wasn’t going to let one game erase a late first-half up-tick.