Alex Ovechkin – who else – scored on the Capitals’ first shot of the game. That was the extent of the damage, and after a sluggish first period, it was all Kings.
Rather than squeak out a victory by the skin of their teeth, the Kings scored four unanswered goals and denied the same quality chances on the other end. Anze Kopitar tied the game at 1 in the second period by scoring his first goal since Jan. 15, putting back the rebound of a Wayne Simmonds shot from close range.
Andrei Loktionov put back a rebound at the end of a 2-on-1 rush with Kyle Clifford at 3:36 of the third period to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. Michal Handzus whacked in another loose puck in Semyon Varlamov’s crease at 12:28 of the third, and Jarret Stoll flew up the right wing for a much prettier goal at 13:56.
Jonathan Bernier made 22 saves, buckling down after Ovechkin’s goal 66 seconds into the game.
Going back to Dec. 27, when the Kings first slipped into a 2-10 coma, they had only beaten one opponent by three or more goals (a 5-2 win over Edmonton on Jan. 15). Since Jan. 22, they’re 6-0-2 and now have a decisive win over a good team that was booed heartily by the announced crowd of 18,398 at the Verizon Center.
A few more notes:
Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s second-round shootout goal against Jonathan Bernier was the only puck that crossed the goal line in 65-plus minutes of hockey in St. Paul.
Bouchard’s backhand, five-hole beauty came immediately after Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom kicked up his leg — from his belly — to stop Jack Johnson’s shot on the other end. Backstrom stopped Dustin Brown in the third round to seal the win and send the Kings (27-22-2) to their first shootout loss all season.
Bernier was hardly to blame. He got some help from a goal frame en route to a 25-save performance, but made some timely saves and was able to swallow up the big rebounds when he needed to.
That was the encouraging part, along with another typical stingy defensive performance by the Kings, who have a point in four straight games. The Kings will play four back-to-back games this month (beginning tomorrow night in Edmonton), which means Bernier figures to be called upon often.
This season: 82 games, 7 goals, 14 assists, minus-21 rating.
Positives: A year after major knee surgery, Handzus played all 82 games, which is a tremendous accomplishment and no doubt gave him a good mental boost. Later in the season, he seemed to be skating harder and with more confidence. Despite his offensive struggles, Handzus earned the respect of coaches and management with his good attitude.
Negatives: For $4 million, Handzus was a mess. The Kings signed him to be a second-line center, but for parts of the season he was centering the fourth line. He seemed slow and tentative for a major part of the season, not surprising for a player in his first season following knee surgery. His play left a huge void in that No. 2 center position.
Looking ahead: Four years is a long time, and $16 million is a lot of money. The good news is, players usually take a big step forward in their second year following knee surgery. If Handzus can improve, and reclaim that No. 2 center spot, it will go a long way toward establishing some much-needed depth in the lineup. If not, things could get ugly.
Contract situation: Signed through 2010-11 (cap number of $4 million next season).