Kings rout Coyotes to clinch playoff berth
Back in the Los Angeles Kings’ less-than-stellar past, clinching a playoff berth would have been cause for celebration.
The current Kings greeted the achievement with a collective shrug. Their sights are set a whole lot higher than the postseason, and they’re on a roll toward their goals.
Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar scored power-play goals, Jonathan Quick made 17 saves in his sixth shutout of the season, and the Kings secured their fifth straight playoff berth with a 4-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night.
Kopitar, Jeff Carter and rookie Tanner Pearson each had a goal and an assist for the surging Kings, who have all but locked up third place in the Pacific Division and a first-round postseason matchup with California rivals San Jose or Anaheim.
"With the evolution of this team, maybe four or five years ago, this was a big deal," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Now it’s part of the process. There’s nothing to celebrate."
Los Angeles has been outstanding since the Olympic break, winning 14 of 18. The Kings have won seven of eight over the past two weeks, solidifying their postseason plans after a prolonged skid before the break.
With just five games left before the postseason, the Kings put on an exhibition of the tough-nosed, defense-minded hockey that won the Stanley Cup in 2012. Phoenix hadn’t been shut out since a 2-0 loss to Columbus on Jan. 2, but the Coyotes managed few good chances against Quick and the Kings’ formidable defense.
"Regardless of clinching, that doesn’t change the way we need to play," said defenseman Alec Martinez, who had two assists. "You’ve got to be playing playoff hockey going into the playoffs. We’ve got to keep honing our game."
The Kings were awfully sharp while snapping their three-game losing streak against Phoenix, which needed these two points even more than Los Angeles.
Phoenix and Dallas are even in eighth place in the Western Conference with 85 points apiece, but the Stars have seven games still to play — two more than the Coyotes, who fell behind 1:20 after the opening faceoff on Pearson’s third career goal.
"We are still out of the playoffs right now, but we all know how important these points are," Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal said. "So we have to make sure we win the rest and get in."
Los Angeles set a franchise record with its 12th shutout of the season, while Quick’s shutout was the 31st of his career, leaving him one shy of tying Rogie Vachon’s franchise record. Quick, whose six shutouts are second-most in the NHL behind Boston’s Tuukka Rask, passed Vachon to become the winningest goalie in Kings history last month.
Thomas Greiss stopped 28 shots for the Coyotes, whose playoff hopes have been hurt by three straight losses.
"It’s not the ideal situation, but you can’t worry about that," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "You’ve got to worry about the next game ahead of us."
Los Angeles took the lead shortly after the opening faceoff when Jeff Carter feathered a beautiful cross-ice pass to Pearson, who dropped to one knee to take the shot. Pearson, the Kings’ first-round pick in 2012, has earned a regular lineup spot after just 22 games in his rookie season.
Doughty scored early in the second period, putting a shot behind Carter’s moving screen. The two-time, gold medal-winning defenseman played an outstanding two-way game, passing and shooting with the formidable skill showcased while playing for Canada in Sochi.
Carter scored on an end-to-end rush midway through the third period, forcing a turnover and blowing a shot past Greiss. Kopitar, who has 22 points in the last 20 games, scored his 25th goal of the season 40 seconds later on a vicious one-timer, giving the Slovenian center six 25-goal seasons in his career.
After earning the 1,500th win in franchise history, Los Angeles (45-26-6) needs one more victory to match the single-season franchise record of 46, done three times previously. The Kings, who have won eight straight road games, visit the Shark Tank on Thursday night to open a four-game trip.
NOTES: New Kings F Marian Gaborik is on a five-game scoring streak. … Hanzal went to the Phoenix dressing room for several minutes in the first period after getting hurt by an elbow from Jordan Nolan, who received a minor penalty. … Martinez has 14 points in his last 16 games. … Greiss made his fifth straight start in place of Mike Smith, who has an injured right knee.