When the final horn sounded on the Kings’ 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, defenseman Drew Doughty pumped his fist twice, then wrapped goalie Peter Budaj in a smothering embrace.
It was a hug worthy of a one-sided playoff win, not a one-goal squeaker against the worst team in the league. But given the way the Kings have fared lately, any victory is worth celebrating.
“We need to win some games and kind of get a streak going so we can get in the playoffs here and be comfortable and not be waiting until the last game of the season,” said Tyler Toffoli, whose tying goal in the second period started a comeback that ended a losing streak at three games. “So it was a big game for us.”
Trevor Lewis scored what proved to be the winning goal midway through the middle period and Mikko Rantanen got Colorado’s goal just seconds after the first intermission.
With the win, just the Kings’ second in seven games, Coach Darryl Sutter matched Andy Murray for the franchise record for victories with 215, and he got there in 78 fewer games.
The game was also Sutter’s 1,262th as an NHL coach, which ties Jacques Lemaire for 13th all-time. But Sutter and the Kings team were unable to catch Calgary, which rallied to beat Nashville in overtime and keep its two-point lead over the Kings in the race for the Western Conference’s final wild-card playoff berth.
“That’s good,” Sutter, one of the few people in the Kings dressing room who wasn’t in celebratory mood, said of his record. “Lot of good teams, lots of good players.”
One of his best players Tuesday was Budaj, who stopped 11 shots in a third period that may have been his best 20 minutes in more than two weeks.
Budaj started February with consecutive shutouts, then gave up 20 goals in his next five starts, four of which the Kings lost. But has rebounded nicely with two one-goal games.
Against the Avalanche, he got a lot of help from his teammates, who blocked 11 shots, and the goalpost, which stopped a Tyson Barrie shot in the third period that would have tied the score.
“Sometimes you need the luck,” Budaj said. “Thank God it didn’t go in. Sometimes you get the bounces.”
Budaj had no chance on Rantanen’s goal, which came 32 seconds into the second period after the Colorado winger took the puck off Doughty’s stick at the Kings blue line and skated in on a breakaway to score his 14th goal.
The Avalanche lead lasted less than three minutes, with Toffoli tying the score by slipping a shot under goalie Calvin Pickard from the edge of the crease before crashing into the net. Rookie Adrian Kempe, playing in his third game, earned his first assist on the goal.
Lewis then put the Kings in front to stay six minutes later, taking a banked pass from Tanner Pearson at the blue line and skating unattended up the left wing before turning hard toward the net and tucking the puck between Pickard and the near post.
It then fell to Budaj to make the lead stand up, earning him a postgame hug he said he accepted “for the team.”
“You seen the standings?” he said. “The standings are tight. And we need every point we can get. It’s just a big game for us.”