The LA Kings held a narrow lead for most of Thursday’s game, and when a plucky and committed Detroit team equalized early in the third and was buzzing for a go-ahead goal, used their top players to create a little bit of puck luck and claim a three-goal win in a low-event game that was tightly checked, closer than the score indicated and representative of the ability to stick with a game plan, commit to working hard and eventually be rewarded. Anyone who recalls anything about the opposition and the legacy of the rivalry will scoff at a “poor Red Wings” lament (as well as the description of Detroit as “plucky and committed”), but, man, These Are Not Good Times. The Wings didn’t give off the vibe of a team that had lost seven straight. They matched up with Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Frans Nielsen down the middle and improved as the game elapsed but came away with zero points in the game in large part because Jonathan Quick, who is quietly rebounding nicely from whatever was afflicting him mid-season, was again outstanding and has a .932 save percentage over his last 15 games.
Quick’s terrific performance was representative of the effort put forth by other team leaders. Anze Kopitar is a long shot to win the Hart Trophy, but he’s making a strong case for it and could end up with his second Selke Trophy by virtue of the extra recognition to his season that a 90-point pace brings. With four more points, he’s well on his way towards posting his most productive season as a pro – as a 30-year-old who is tiptoeing closer to 1,000 games played. This is awfully impressive, especially given the context of his previous season and the extra demands mentally placed upon him as the captain of the team. He’s also shooting the puck more and on pace for 200 shots on goal, even if his game-winner wasn’t exactly the representation of beating the goaltender cleanly from the mid-slot with a pristine wristshot. Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown also had their fingerprints on the victory, as did Jeff Carter, who was the team’s most effective player at tilting the ice towards the attacking end.
The Kings are 6-2-1 in their last nine games, so they’ve done their part to remain just above the fray of a tightly compacted group of Western Conference teams that remain in the mix. Los Angeles is done with the also-rans for now; within that 6-2-1 stretch, they traded off wins and losses with four teams that were outside of a playoff berth during a tougher-than-it-appeared four-in-six stretch. There’s little rest for the weary with an equally desperate New Jersey team punctuating a home-heavy stretch of play and turning a four-in-six into a five-in-seven-and-a-half. From there, the fun really starts. Two games remain against Colorado and Minnesota and one each against Dallas, Anaheim and Calgary – oh, haven’t forgotten about you, Winnipeg, on the second night of a back-to-back, again – as part of a 10-game stretch that will end the season and force Los Angeles to get its rest and return to the ice on game days with a fully refilled mental reservoir and a short memory. The home stretch is nigh.