Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier makes a save on a point-blank shot by… (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)
The Kings can still dream big.
The herky-jerky season they have been through still has possibilities, a fact supported by a 1-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday at Staples Center.
This wasn't a statement to the rest of the Western Conference, which some fans seemed to expect when the Kings acquired Dustin Penner from Edmonton on Monday. Penner's biggest contribution Thursday was to stand still.
Nor was it a performance to make conference opponents tremble, as the game seemed suited more for yawns than yells through two periods.
But Jarret Stoll's third-period power-play goal and Jonathan Bernier's presence in net had the Kings moving forward in the conference playoff race.
"You want to be in the best spot possible," Stoll said. "Obviously winning home ice is huge and winning your division is huge."
The Kings moved into fifth place, just behind Chicago. With only two points separating fourth place from eighth place, the last home ice spot for the first round dangles for someone.
But the Kings haven't let go of loftier ambitions in the Pacific Division.
"It would be great to finish in the third spot and get home ice," Stoll said. But winning the division "is still our goal. It's been our goal all year."
That will take some work. First-place San Jose beat Detroit on Thursday to stay six points ahead of the Kings. The Kings have nine games remaining with division opponents, including five to finish the season. They play two more games against San Jose.
"Of course we can still see San Jose," Anze Kopitar said. "But you win a game you're in fifth. You lose one, you're in 10th. You can't look beyond the next game."
Still, he said, "San Jose is definitely within reach. There are a lot of four-point games left, like tonight."
The Kings have an 8-7 record against division teams after handing the Coyotes their fifth consecutive defeat, one of which was a shootout loss.
A mostly lifeless game finally perked up for the Kings after the Coyotes' Rostislav Klesla was called for high sticking. Kopitar sent a pass to the blue line and Stoll skipped a shot past goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov 12 minutes into the third period. Penner, who is more lug than Lemieux, stood motionless at the crease as Stoll's shot whizzed past.
Penner had no shots, with his main spotlight moment came when he whiffed on a one-timer in the slot. Still, he showed the promise of being a cog in the machine, a style the Kings leaned on Thursday
"That was a complete team game," Stoll said.
Bernier, who had a light workout through two periods, was the last resort on that grind-it-out game. He made 25 saves for his second shutout of the season. That included stopping a Klesla tip-try at the crease with two minutes left.
"When we needed him, he stopped shots," Kopitar said. "That's all you can ask."