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Two-Point Landing

Hockey: Kings shut out Red Wings, 3-0, picking up much-needed victory in tight playoff race.

April 05, 2002|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With playoff tickets going on sale Saturday, the Kings on Thursday night set about trying to make sure that they're worth something.

Their 3-0 victory over the motivationally challenged Detroit Red Wings, featuring goals by Aaron Miller, Jason Allison and Kelly Buchberger and 31 saves by goaltender Felix Potvin, ended their five-game winless streak and, more important, greatly improved their chances of making the playoffs.

"We needed these two points badly, a lot more than they did," said Potvin, whose shutout was his fifth of the season, "and we battled for them."

In front of 18,621 at Staples Center, the largest home crowd in franchise history, the Kings moved into a tie with Phoenix for the fifth spot in the Western Conference, five points ahead of the idle Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars.

The Kings and Canucks have five games to play, the Stars six.

In winning for the first time since March 23, when a 3-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks moved them a season-high 14 games above .500, the Kings extended their home unbeaten streak to eight games. The Kings are 6-0-2 at Staples Center since March 2, when the Columbus Blue Jackets beat them, 2-0.

And they seemed to have solved their penalty-killing problems with the simplest solution possible: Don't take penalties.

"You're darn right," said assistant coach Mark Hardy, who oversees the penalty-killing unit, which had given up 10 power-play goals in five games.

The Red Wings had only two power-play opportunities.

"It's a good step," King forward Ian Laperriere said. "We beat a pretty good team out there. We got back to basics and just worked hard.

"Hopefully, we've turned it around."

For a struggling team such as the Kings, whose 0-3-2 slide had loosened their grip on a playoff slot, the high-flying Red Wings presumably would not be high on a list of ideal opponents.

But King Coach Andy Murray begged to differ.

"I think it's perfect that it's Detroit," Murray said before the game, "because it's going to demand full attention to detail and it's going to make sure that we bring our game back in order to have a chance....

"I think [if we win] it sends a message to the rest of the league. If you're sitting in Vancouver tonight, if you're sitting in St. Louis, if you're sitting in Dallas, if you're sitting in Edmonton, you're counting on the Kings losing.

"I think you can affect the mental psyche of some of these other teams, who are maybe watching the scoreboard, by going out and winning a game that nobody thinks you're going to win."

The Red Wings, however, aren't exactly steaming into the playoffs after dominating the league from the start of the season.

After the Red Wings clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, Coach Scotty Bowman started giving players time off. They've won only one of their last six games, among them a 1-1 tie Wednesday night against the Ducks, and had four regulars missing from their lineup Thursday night.

"We need to wake up because we are just not into the game, I think," said Red Wing goalie Dominik Hasek. "It's sad to say. It's very sad to say something like that. Teams like L.A. are fighting and playing desperate hockey. We can't beat them the way we're playing right now. It's very frustrating."

Still, Murray expected them to be excited about playing the Kings, and not only because the Kings eliminated the Red Wings from the playoffs last spring.

"I think we've got a rivalry with them," Murray said. "Over the last three years every game we've had with them seems to have been a one-goal, heated game. It seems to be something that's built up here for a bit.

"One of the reasons is, we've been as successful against them as any team in the league over the last three years. They don't like that."

They also didn't like giving up two goals in the second period.

Hasek had matched Potvin save for save until Miller stepped into the play, took a cross-ice pass from Cliff Ronning and rifled a shot from the right point past the goaltender with 6:41 to play in the second period.

Miller's goal was his first in 27 games and fifth of the season, matching a career high. It was his first point in 19 games and gave the Kings a 1-0 lead.

Allison increased the Kings' advantage to 2-0 with 2:06 left in the period, lifting a shot over Hasek after Adam Deadmarsh corralled a loose puck in the Red Wing zone, and carried it up the left wing before feeding a pass in front to Allison.

Buchberger scored his sixth goal at 15:06 of the third period.

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