The Kings welcomed Matt Greene back to their lineup for a gritty 2-1 victory over the scalding Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night at Staples Center, looking whole again after 42 games without their veteran defenseman.
It would have made for a better story if Greene scored the go-ahead goal on an end-to-end rush that lifted the Kings to a victory in another in a string of nerve-jangling games. But that’s not his style of play and that’s certainly not what the Kings ask of him.
Defenseman Drew Doughty and enforcer Kyle Clifford scored the Kings’ goals, helping them to end the Blue Jackets’ five-game winning streak. Dalton Prout scored the Blue Jackets’ only goal, his first in the NHL in his 30th game, as Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made 20 saves.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings (25-14-5) didn’t need highlight-reel caliber plays from Greene to stay in front of the San Jose Sharks in the fight for fourth place and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Slow and steady saved the day.
“You want to see how your back holds up,” Greene said of playing for the first time since he hurt his back Jan. 19, and required surgery. “You can do as many exercises as you want, but it all comes down to being physical and battling. If I can’t battle in the corners, I’m pretty much useless.”
It was Kings coach Darryl Sutter’s wish to have Greene play as many games as possible before the playoffs begin April 30. Sutter hoped Greene might be fit to play in Tuesday’s game against the Sharks in San Jose, a shootout loss, but it didn’t happen.
Greene practiced with his teammates Wednesday and when he woke up feeling fine Thursday, the Kings activated him from injured reserve just before they took the ice for their morning skate. He received a fine ovation when he hit the ice for his first shift against the Blue Jackets.