Kings 1, Phoenix 0.

The difference in the Kings’ last two games wasn’t Jonathan Bernier or Dustin Penner. It was astronomical.

That said, Jonathan Bernier’s 25 saves and Dustin Penner’s debut were the most memorable aspects of a game decided on Jarret Stoll’s power-play goal with 7:47 left in the third period.

For the first time in a while, Bernier had to flash a nervous smile and get political in the dressing room after the game. That’s the reward for posting a shutout immediately after a 7-4 loss: Questions about whether you want to be the starter.

“For me, it’s not something I focus on,” Bernier said. “Me and Quickie, we’re here to win some hockey games. Quickie’s our number one. He’s done a tremendous job for us.”

Nobody’s denying Quick’s resume. But neither can one ignore his six goals allowed Monday against Detroit – a team the Kings might have to face in the playoffs. Terry Murray didn’t ignore Quick’s last outing by starting Bernier on Thursday, and now the coach can’t just as easily ignore Bernier’s shutout. Murray would not tip his thinking when asked after the game if he was inclined to start Bernier against Dallas.

Penner didn’t score, but he was directly involved in the goal, and had some good cycle shifts with Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds (and Justin Williams, who took over for Simmonds at right wing in the third period). Penner’s only shot attempt was blocked, but he led the Kings with five hits.

A few more notes that won’t appear in tomorrow’s editions …

How tight is the Western Conference playoff race? The Kings started the day in eighth place, fell to ninth after the Nashville Predators beat the Vancouver Canucks (a game that was completed a few minutes into the third period), then leaped into fifth place with the win. Technically they’re tied with Phoenix and Chicago at 76 points, but Chicago has more non-shootout wins and Phoenix has the lower winning percentage.

The Coyotes still don’t have an owner ( story).

I started to read that story between periods and had a hard time “putting it down” (to borrow a newspaper phrase) because it can’t be emphasized enough how unexciting this game was for most of its 60 minutes. Both teams had more hits than shots on goal. The goaltenders made few tough saves — a credit to their positioning and technique, but no real highlights there.

Said Murray, “both teams played the checking game without the puck – there were a lot of good reloads and back pressure coming. … In particular I thought we created some real good offensive-zone time but, at the end of the day, you look at the shot clock and there’s not a lot put up there. Shots toward the net, it was very good. I give them the credit for paying the price and blocking the shots.”

Rob Scuderi blocked a game-high nine shots (in a season-high 27:08). The Kings blocked 14 as a team; the Coyotes blocked 13.

One reason Scuderi logged a lot of minutes: Willie Mitchell was struck on the face by a Kyle Turris wrister in the first period. He was back late in the second period, a bandage on his left cheek.

The Kings’ 18 shots tied a season low. They also had 18 shots Feb. 23 in Anaheim and won that game, too.

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