Jarome Iginla has switched teams during the season before, so he didn’t need to be told what was expected of him when he joined the Kings on Thursday, 24 hours after the trade-deadline deal that brought him over from last-place Colorado.
“Honestly, just to work hard, to go,” he told reporters after meeting his new teammates. “Just to battle and just play hard. I think that’s the identity of their team.”
But if Iginla didn’t change the identity of his new team overnight, he might have helped change its luck. Because in his first game with the Kings, they got third-period goals from Anze Kopitar and Tanner Pearson to force overtime, then beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2, in a shootout to end a two-game losing streak.
Kopitar has struggled offensively all year, but after being joined by Iginla in the starting lineup, he not only scored his first goal since Jan. 31, but he had the only goal in the shootout as well. Goaltender Jonathan Quick turned away all three Toronto skaters, allowing the Kings to jump over idle St. Louis and into position for the Western Conference’s final wild-card playoff berth with 18 games to play.
Tyler Bozak and Nikita Zaitsev scored Toronto’s goals, the first coming two minutes after the opening faceoff.
Following a turnover at the Kings’ blue line, the Maple Leafs worked the puck to James Van Riemsdyk behind the goal line. His no-look pass set up Mitchell Marner for a shot at the near post, but the puck bounced off Quick’s pad to Bozak at the other side of the crease and he knocked it home for his 15th goal of the season.
The lead didn’t last long into the third period though.
Kopitar halved it on a power-play goal in the opening 30 seconds, sending a wild slap shot toward the net that struck Zaitsev in the head and dropped into the net. The play gave Zaitsev a welt on the right side of his forehead and gave Kopitar his fifth goal since October and seventh on the season.
“I’ll take it,” Kopitar said.
Less than 90 seconds later, the Kings tied it on Pearson’s third goal in as many games, setting up a scoreless overtime that led to the game-deciding shootout.
The Kings had lost consecutive games in overtime earlier this week. And they hadn’t won in a shootout since October. Afterward Iginla wasn’t taking credit for the change of fortune; he skated just less than 16 minutes and didn’t get off a shot.
But he enjoyed being back in a playoff race just the same.
“It’s amazing how it’s so different at first and pretty cool to be a part of.”
Added Kopitar: “Obviously, he’s got to get comfortable with everything, but we’ll work on it. And there were some good signs out there.”