DENVER (AP) The more urgent their season becomes, the better the Los Angeles Kings seem to perform.
That’s just the way this team ticks. They’re hardly bothered by pressure-filled games this time of year.
Brayden McNabb had a goal and two assists, Jonathan Quick stopped 21 shots and the Kings beat Colorado 5-2 on Tuesday night to end the Avalanche’s three-game win streak.
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Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford and Jake Muzzin also scored as the reigning Stanley Cup champions crept closer to playoff contention with 16 games remaining.
”We’re at our best when we’re in dire need of a win,” said Justin Williams, who had two assists. ”And we’re in dire need of 16 more wins.”
Quick made one sensational save after another to move the Kings into a third-place tie with Calgary in the Pacific Division with 77 points. The Flames currently hold the tiebreaker courtesy of more non-shootout wins. Los Angeles also crawled to within a point of Winnipeg for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
”This time of year we’ve got to play our best hockey,” Clifford said. ”It’s one game at a time and points are huge.”
Tyson Barrie and Alex Tanguay scored for the Avalanche, who dropped the first contest in a pivotal three-game homestand as their postseason aspirations dwindle.
Rookie goaltender Calvin Pickard filled in after Semyon Varlamov injured his groin over the weekend. Pickard’s night didn’t last long, with the Kings scoring three early goals and chasing him from the game at 14:15 of the first period. Reto Berra took over the rest of the way.
Varlamov had his string of 22 straight starts snapped.
”It stings,” Barrie said. ”We didn’t give ourselves a chance. We didn’t have the first two periods we wanted to have. I thought we responded well in the third but it was too late.”
Tanguay made it 4-2 when he lifted a shot past Quick at 8:27 of the third. But Muzzin quickly answered to restore the three-goal lead. It was Muzzin’s first goal since Jan. 28.
Colorado pulled Berra with around five minutes remaining for an extra skater and yet couldn’t get anything past Quick.
”They (Kings) are so good, there’s no reason for these guys to not be in the playoff picture right now. It shows how tough it is,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. ”You have to be good night after night after night if you want to make the playoffs in this conference. If you want to be in the playoff picture, you have to be healthy and you have to play well.”
Gaborik got the Kings on the board at 7:47 of the first period when he redirected a shot past Pickard, who was called up from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League the day before. Moments later, Jordan Nolan and Carter executed a perfect give-and-go, with Carter sending a shot over Pickard’s glove.
Barrie sliced into the lead by beating Quick with a low liner, only to have McNabb tip in a shot at 14:15 to make it 3-1 and end Pickard’s night.
Pickard entered the evening with a 2.18 goals-against average in 15 games for Colorado. He’s stepped in from time to time this season as Varlamov’s dealt with a nagging groin injury.
Although Varlamov skated at morning practice, Roy elected to take a cautious approach. Roy said Varlamov is ”day-to-day” and may be back in goal against New Jersey on Thursday.
”It doesn’t hurt him, but he doesn’t feel like it’s solid enough to take a chance,” Roy explained.
This has been an injury-filled season for the Avalanche, who are already without defenseman Erik Johnson (knee), along with forwards Nathan MacKinnon (broken foot) and Jamie McGinn (back).
”Story of our season,” Roy said. ”Losing Johnson and MacKinnon and McGinn and on and on and on and on.”
NOTES: The Kings had 10 assists in the game. … Varlamov was one start away from matching Craig Anderson’s mark for most consecutive starts by an Avalanche goaltender set in 2010. The franchise record is held by Quebec’s Ron Tugnutt, who started 26 straight during the 1990-91 season. … F Joey Hishon (neck/elbow) was a scratch.