On April 2, 2014, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes by a score of 4-0. The win was the Kings' seventh in the last eight games. More importantly, the team clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight season.
Phoenix came into the game with their slim playoff hopes still alive, and desperately needed the two points. The game was expected to have playoff-type intensity, and it did not disappoint. Though the intensity was there on both sides, the Kings clearly carried the play, and played much better as a team. As a result, the outcome of this game was never really in doubt. The Kings outshot Phoenix 32-17.
Said Phoenix Head coach Dave Tippett, “We gave up a goal early, got chasing the game right from the beginning. That probably wasn’t the ideal circumstance to put ourselves in. The first period I thought we hung around it, we just couldn’t get anything to go our way. We had a couple chances that we thought that we could get a chance to get ourselves back in the game. We could maybe find something, but it didn’t happen.”
It was just a matter of time before the Kings mathematically clinched the third playoff spot in the Pacific division. They had a healthy lead on Phoenix, but were too far back for a realistic chance to bump Anaheim or San Jose from one of the top two spots. Now it is just a matter of maintaining the intensity, and playing strong for the last five games of the season. All remaining games will be against Pacific division opponents.
As a team, the Kings are in a nice rhythm. Even with the recent line-shuffling, the team chemistry remains strong. The most significant move was several games ago, when Jeff Carter was moved off Mike Richards' line. Carter is now centering a line with Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson. Carter seems to be unlocking the potential of the two highly-touted youngsters; Pearson has 4 points (1G,3A) in his last four games. Richards is now centering the fourth line, with Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis on the wings. The top line features Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Marian Gaborik. Jarrett Stoll centers a line with Dustin Brown and Jordan Nolan.
On the blueline, the story continues to be the sudden offensive explosion of Alec Martinez. Martinez had two assists in the win over Phoenix, and has 14 points (7G,7A) in his last 16 games.
Goalie Jonathan Quick now has 31 career shutouts; one shy of Rogie Vachon's club record of 32. So ironic, is that Quick wears jersey number '32'.
Kings are now 15-4-0 in games since Feb 6, 2014.
This is clearly a new era of Kings' hockey. When asked about securing a playoff spot, Kings' team captain Dustin Brown said, “Maybe four or five years ago, this was a big deal, now this is just part of the process. It is good to get it out of the way now when we need to use our remaining games to get our game in order.”
Said Kings' defenseman Drew Doughty about the team's championship attitude, having won the Cup in 2012 - "All this team wants is to have that feeling again. To have that feeling again with this group of guys, that's the goal."
Kings play in San Jose on Thursday night.