Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) tries to control the puck past Coyotes… (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated…)
There were no loud celebrations in the Kings' locker room at Staples Center on Wednesday, no high-fiving or back-patting or any other hint players appreciated the significance of their 4-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.
And that's as it should be for the Kings, who elevated their expectations by winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and reaching the Western Conference finals last season with a bruised and battered team. Their seventh win in eight games and 15th in their last 19 assured them of the third spot in the Pacific Division and a first-round playoff matchup against the No. 2 team in the division -- likely the San Jose Sharks -- but it didn't set off any partying.
Dustin Brown called it "the evolution of this team," and he's right. Merely making the playoffs -- even for a fifth straight season -- isn't enough. Not anymore.
"Maybe four or five years ago this was a big deal. Now this is just part of the process," Brown said after goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped 17 shots and the Kings got goals from Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar within 40 seconds during
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, April 04, 2014 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Kings hockey: A caption with a photograph of a Los Angeles Kings player on the cover of the April 3 Sports section misidentified Robyn Regehr as Justin Williams.
a forceful third period
to pull away from the Coyotes.
"It's good to get it out of the way now and use our remaining games to get our game in order. There's nothing to celebrate about making the playoffs. That's not a goal -- it's an expectation."
Quick's shutout was his sixth this season and 31st of his Kings career, one behind franchise shutout leader Rogie Vachon. Tanner Pearson and Drew Doughty scored the first two goals, early in the first and second period, respectively; Carter, on a two-on-one, and Kopitar, on a power play, broke it open in the third, which defenseman Alec Martinez saw as a positive sign after the Kings had squandered a lead over Minnesota in their previous game.
Asked to identify the best parts of the Kings' performance Wednesday, Martinez didn't hesitate.
"We held that lead in the third. That was a big focus," said Martinez, who contributed two assists.
"I thought we played a full 60 minutes. We got contributions from special teams and that was huge. And I thought we played pretty well defensively. Obviously good goaltending, but it seems like we get that every night."
The Kings (45-26-6) are one short of the team record for wins in a season, set in 1990-91 and equaled in 2009-10 and 2010-11. The Coyotes, in losing, complicated their quest for a wild-card playoff berth. They're tied with Dallas at 85 points, but the Stars have two games in hand.
Rookie winger Pearson opened the scoring by forcing Phoenix to turn the puck over in its own zone. The puck came to Carter, who skated up the left side and looked to his right to Pearson, who unleashed a one-timer from the right circle that eluded Coyotes goalie Thomas Greiss at 1:20.
The Kings struck at 2:27 in the second period. Phoenix center Antoine Vermette was serving an interference penalty when Doughty passed it to Kopitar, then moved to the left side of the ice.
Kopitar passed it back to Martinez, who found Doughty in the left circle. Doughty held onto the puck long enough for Carter to screen Greiss and then let loose a shot that became Doughty's 10th goal this season.
The Kings turned it into a rout in the third, when Carter forced a turnover in the Kings' zone, dashed the other way and scored on a two-on-one at 9:10.
Kopitar completed the scoring on a nasty shot from the right side during a power play, at 9:50 of the third.
But that's really just the beginning for the Kings. Qualifying for the playoffs, Martinez said, wasn't a relief but another step on a road they hope will be long and end with a win in late June.
"I think we just took a focus on playing well tonight," Martinez said.
"Phoenix is a desperate hockey team now and points are big. I don't think that it's really good to think about stuff like that and just go out and focus on your game and try and play
AT SAN JOSE
On the air: TV: NBCSN, Radio: 1150.
Etc.: This could be a playoff preview. The Kings are 3-0-1 versus San Jose this season, with three of the four games decided by one goal. The Sharks are battling the Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division and have five games left. In their last game, on Tuesday, the Sharks had to rally for a 5-4 home victory over the Edmonton Oilers.