LOS ANGELES (AP) Anze Kopitar ended his 13-game goal drought only by banking a shot off the visor on Nikita Zaitsev’s helmet. In the shootout, Kopitar fanned on his shot and still scored the winning goal.
The Los Angeles Kings and their struggling captain welcome any amount of accidental success while they attempt to stay in the playoff race.
Kopitar scored early in the third period and managed the only goal in the shootout, leading Los Angeles back from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
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Kopitar and Tanner Pearson scored 90 seconds apart to tie it for the Kings, who opened a seven-game homestand with a key win for their playoff hopes. Los Angeles moved one point in front of St. Louis for the final wild card in the Western Conference, although the Blues have two games in hand.
The entire season has been laborious for Kopitar, the team’s leading scorer for nine consecutive seasons. The Slovenian center failed to get a goal in February, but he ended the Kings’ 93-minute scoring drought early in the third when his shot hit Zaitsev in the visor and ricocheted past Frederik Andersen.
”I took the shot, didn’t catch it quite well,” Kopitar said. ”I didn’t even know at first it went in, but then all the guys started to throw their hands in the air, so I figured it went in. I’ll take `em. Maybe that’s the break that I needed, but we’ve got to keep going, obviously, and the team has got to be winning.”
Kopitar then beat Andersen with that changeup in the shootout, sending the Kings to their first shootout victory in four tries since Oct. 22.
”If I’m completely honest with you, I missed my shot, but it went in,” Kopitar acknowledged. ”They all count, and I’ll take it.”
Jonathan Quick also played a major part in the victory. In his fourth start of the season, he stopped 29 shots and denied all three Maple Leafs in the shootout, including a spectacular backhand stop of William Nylander to end the game.
Tyler Bozak and Zaitsev scored early goals for the Maple Leafs, who have lost four straight. Toronto also fell to 1-8 in shootouts this season.
”We got a point, but it’s not everything we want,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said. ”As a team, we think we’re right there. Every game counts. We’re coming down the stretch, and it’s a good feeling to (be in the playoff race). It’s up to us.”
Andersen made 33 saves in his first trip back to Southern California since the Anaheim Ducks traded him to Toronto in the offseason.
Although Andersen admitted he would love to play in Anaheim on Friday night, coach Mike Babcock said backup Curtis McElhinney will start.
”Team played good and Freddie played good, (but) we have to find ways to get points,” Babcock said. ”We are unmistakably on the outside right now in the playoff race, and have to keep grinding.”
Jarome Iginla played nearly 16 minutes in his debut with the Kings, who acquired the 39-year-old veteran from Colorado at the trade deadline on Wednesday. Wearing a black No. 88 jersey, Iginla got a warm reception from the sellout crowd at Staples Center.
Iginla welcomed the return to a playoff race after spending the winter with the struggling Avalanche.
”You could feel it, being in that game,” Iginla said. ”Each point is so important, and the desperation, it is fun to be part of that, and the urgency of every shift. All the little battles both ways and the intensity – it’s been a while.”
After Kopitar scored off Zaitsev’s head, Pearson tied it with his 22nd goal, nimbly keeping the puck away from Andersen’s poke-check and sliding it under the Danish goalie.
NOTES: Brian Boyle won a faceoff to set up Zaitsev’s goal. The assist was Boyle’s first point since joining Toronto in a trade with Tampa Bay. … Kings forward Nick Shore was sidelined early in the game with an upper-body injury. … Toronto forward Josh Leivo was an apparently healthy scratch despite scoring nine points in the previous eight games. … Andersen played his 10,000th NHL minute.
Maple Leafs: At the Ducks on Friday to finish a three-game California road swing.