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Kings continue late-season surge

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- If it's March, it must be time for the Los Angeles Kings' annual stretch drive toward the playoffs.

After falling out of contention for the Pacific Division title and facing the prospect of sliding into a wild-card slot before the Olympic break, the Kings rebounded in the past three weeks to play their best hockey of the season.

Center Anze Kopitar scored two goals and goaltender Jonathan Quick made 24 saves as the Kings defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 on Saturday night.

Los Angeles (44-25-6) won its sixth straight and 14th in its last 17 games as it continues to gather momentum toward the playoffs. Though the Kings will open the postseason on the road, the team's recent success away from Staples Center will make them a difficult first road opponent for either the Anaheim Ducks or San Jose Sharks.

"I'm not sure what it is, but there is something about Kings teams," defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "They always seem to be sluggish from Games 40 to 60, then turn it on from Games 60 to 82."

With deep playoff runs including a Stanley Cup championship in the past two seasons, no one in the Kings' locker room is surprised at their play down the stretch. Their attitude is businesslike as they know their season will be judged on postseason performance.

"You are just trying to refine parts of your game, very simple," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "You are trying to take care of your own business first. You are not a playoff team until you clinch the playoff spot."

After a surprising win in San Jose on Thursday, the slow start sealed the Jets' fate. They travel to Anaheim and Phoenix with the opportunity to make up ground lessening. The first-period performance was particularly discouraging given the importance of the game.

"There is no explanation," Jets winger Blake Wheeler said. "They came out with the kind of energy you need to start a hockey game. After the opening period, we figured it out a little bit. We stopped playing on our heels so much and started trying to engage a little bit physically."

After the Jets narrowed the score to 3-1 early in the third period, Kings winger Tyler Toffoli added an insurance goal. After Mitchell blocked a shot, Kings winger Tanner Pearson sent Toffoli out on an odd-man rush. His slap shot cleanly beat Winnipeg goaltender Al Montoya for his 12th goal of the season at 4:59.

Wheeler closed out the scoring with his 26th goal of the season on the power play at 8:56 of the third.

The Kings chased Jets starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec from the net after 20 minutes with a three-goal first period barrage. Center Trevor Lewis opened the scoring with his sixth goal of the season at 2:42 of the first period. Lewis took a pass from winger Kyle Clifford and his soft wrist shot was initially stopped by Pavelec but trickled over the goal line.

"I understand how it looked in the first period, but I'm not putting that one on the goaltender's feet," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "I'm not saying they're not responsible for the pucks. Shame on us, there's a 20 man group out there."

Los Angeles doubled its lead at 7:53 on Kopitar's 23rd goal of the season. A wrist shot from winger Marian Gaborik rebounded off Kopitar's leg and into the net and after a short review the goal was ruled good.

Kopitar notched his second goal of the period at 17:37 when his backhand shot off a deflection by Gaborik got through Pavelec. The goal led to Pavelec's eventual departure.

Montoya went between the pipes for the Jets to start the second period.

Winnipeg (33-33-9) lost for the fourth time in six games as its playoff chances further dwindled. Winger Matt Halischuk scored the other Jets goal and Pavelec took the loss by stopping just 13 of 16 shots.

NOTES: Jets G Ondrej Pavelec started for the first time since March 12. He was shelved with a lower-body injury that saw backup G Al Montoya play six straight games. ... Winnipeg scratched RW Chris Thornburn, RW Devin Setoguchi, D Zach Bogosian, C Mark Schefiele and D Michael Hutchinson. ... The Jets have not had a hat trick since Dec. 18, 2010, when the franchise was in Atlanta and Eric Boulton lit the lamp three times. ... Los Angeles did not dress D Matt Greene and C Jordan Nolan. ... Kings C Trevor Lewis notched his career-high sixth goal of the season when he scored in the first period on Saturday night. It was Lewis' fourth goal in his last 11 games as he approached unrestricted free agency in the offseason. ... The Kings won eight consecutive road games to tie the franchise record set from Dec. 18, 1974, to Jan. 16, 1975. They will have a chance to break the record on April 4 in San Jose at the start of their final road trip of the regular season.
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