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HELENE ELLIOTT

Finally, tenacity fit for the Kings

L.A. shows a needed lift in spirit in a 4-3 victory over Minnesota.

March 08, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

So where was this kind of performance two weeks ago, while the Kings were losing nine of 11 games and spiraling toward the bottom of the Western Conference?

Where was the tenacity they showed Saturday in their 4-3 victory over Minnesota, capitalizing on a bad effort by a good goalie and holding off a third-period push by the Wild to sweep the teams' four-game season series?

"I've asked that question, yes, and it's difficult to answer that," Kings Coach Terry Murray said, almost -- but not quite -- allowing himself a grimace.

"It's a process. It's learning. It's trying to figure how to dig in every night, and that's hard. It becomes a leadership issue sometimes, where guys really have to take over ownership in the locker room. We're trying to figure that out."

They've found a winning formula the last two games, stringing two victories together for the first time since Feb. 7-10. Although the outcome was the same, each time the scripts differed substantially.

They had to rally from a three-goal deficit to beat Dallas on Thursday but never trailed against Minnesota on Saturday. They broke a 2-2 tie and pulled ahead for good when Anze Kopitar sent goalie Niklas Backstrom to the bench with a snap shot from the left circle at 8:45 of the second period.

Their special teams were effective too, killing two disadvantages and scoring on one of three advantages.

Teddy Purcell's power-play goal at 15:11 of the second period -- he pursued his own rebound after his shot from the left-wing boards was blocked before it reached the net -- stood as the decisive score after former King Eric Belanger banged the puck off the back of Jonathan Quick's left leg at 4:43 of the third to nullify a delayed penalty pending against the Kings.

"That was a big win," Quick said. "They battled hard all game, and the team deserved that two points."

To the Kings, the most satisfying point was that they were good in addition to being lucky.

"I think we showed character too," said Kopitar, who has a four-game goal-scoring streak. "They tied it up and we went ahead a couple of times, so it was really good for us.

"He's a good goalie, but luckily for us he just had a little off day."

The first hint that Backstrom wasn't at his best came early, when Kings defenseman Kyle Quincey stole the puck in the neutral zone and took a 40-foot shot that slipped under the goalie's right pad at 2:26 of the first period.

Minnesota matched that at 9:22, after defenseman Kim Johnsson took a shot from the point that appeared to deflect in front of the net. Owen Nolan pounced on it and flicked it home before Quick could slide to his left to block it.

The Kings' luck kicked in again 29 seconds later, when Kyle Calder unleashed a long shot that took a funny hop before going under Backstrom's left leg. The goal was Calder's first in 15 games, since Feb. 5 at Washington.

Minnesota pulled even again, at 14:57, moments after Purcell had hit the left post. The Wild made a quick transition up ice and Stephane Veilleux finished off a give-and-go with James Sheppard by taking a wrist shot that went off Quick's glove, the post, and into the net.

The Kings got one more gift when Michal Handzus, continuing his assertive and productive play, slid a pass from behind the goal line to Kopitar, who gave the Kings a 3-2 lead on their 13th shot of the game.

"It was not a good day for the goalie," Wild Coach Jacques Lemaire noted of Backstrom, who began the game ranked among the NHL leaders in every significant goaltending category. "There were some stoppable shots."

Lucky or good, the Kings took what they were given and turned the situation in their favor. If they had shown that much resourcefulness a few more times in the last month the course of their season might have been different. And they know it.

"Hopefully we sit back after the year's over and we're not kicking ourselves in the butt thinking about that," Quincey said. "But we have to rectify the problem right now and kind of get those points back that we lost."

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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