Kings jump to 4-goal lead, finish with 6-0 rout of Wild



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LOS ANGELES – All Jim Hiller ordered up for his Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday couldn’t have been delivered faster or better than if it was shipped from Amazon Prime.

Their head coach — on an interim status but maybe trending toward having some permanence in that role — wanted an effective forecheck right away against Minnesota that he felt was missing early on Tuesday in their win over Chicago. How about the game’s first goal? Done!

Any coach, Hiller included, knows his best players must come through when it matters. As his best led the way against the Blackhawks, they followed up with L.A.’s second goal to build on the momentum. Presto!

And Hiller certainly hoped Viktor Arvidsson could make a difference in his return to the lineup. With a bit of good fortune, Arvidsson did just that for the Kings’ third goal. Voilà!

Once Matt Roy cruised through the center of the ice and the Wild’s absence of defense to direct a Quinton Byfield pass by a beleaguered and eventually infuriated Marc-Andre Fleury, the Kings had a four-goal lead just 28 ticks into the second period after a rousing opening 20 minutes. Game over!

Now a 6-0 rout isn’t going to suddenly catapult them to favored status should they run into Edmonton (again) in the first round. And it’s still too early to know whether it could be likely Pacific Division champion Vancouver or who wins the three-horse race in the Central between Winnipeg, Dallas and Colorado should they fall into a wild-card position. It will all shake out on April 18, if not before.

But coming back with two important points against an ordinarily much more competitive Minnesota club after securing two they couldn’t squander in thumping lowly Chicago brought about good vibes while strengthening their hold on third place over Vegas and extending their cushion over the Wild.

It was a meaningful game Wednesday, with the visitors coming in on a 6-0-2 run and still with a puncher’s chance to squeeze into the postseason. The Kings rose to this moment, which Hiller had been wanting.

At the start of the week, Hiller sought the desperation he felt was missing Saturday in their loss at Dallas.

“All the teams that are in and around the playoffs and are fighting, they would tell you that it has to be that way or else you’re not going to give yourself a chance to get in,” he said. “There’s just another level that has to go to. For some teams, maybe it comes a little bit later because they might have a bigger cushion. To the other teams, it’s on right now.”

Two more games now checked off the schedule, where does he stand on that?

“I thought we were ready to play,” Hiller said Wednesday night. “The nice part about it is we were ready to play, and we looked pretty good doing it. Arvy back in and just kind of the full lineup and lots of energy. We got rewarded. We got a couple lucky goals, we understand that.

“It just felt right. You could feel it on the bench. You can get a sense in the room. And we had that feeling and we followed up on it.”

The story of the trade deadline was how the other contenders in the West stocked up, with only Vancouver being quiet but after it had already made its major addition of Elias Lindholm at the beginning of February. Edmonton added. Colorado added. Winnipeg added. Dallas added. Vegas, in its bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, added.

The Kings didn’t. They haven’t made a trade all season and they’ve been counting on the moves from last summer and the additions coming from within to push them toward membership in the true Cup contenders club. How worthy they are of belonging is still something they’ll have to prove but they can be much more than a lightly regarded underdog if they can continue getting what they put out Wednesday.

Stars performing. Quality goaltending. Returning players provide a lift. Special teams in their favor. Determined play from the start. In this one and hopefully as the stakes continue to heighten, the Kings presented the best version of themselves and that might make them more than a pretender.

“I think we were more ready to play tonight than we were yesterday,” Arvidsson said. “That helped. Came out the gate, we were really fast and hard. It was a good start to the game and then we just built on that.”

Just five minutes in, Phillip Danault applied enough pressure with his forecheck on standout Minnesota rookie Brock Faber to create chaos in the Wild end. Kevin Fiala jumped on the turnover, moved the puck quickly to Trevor Moore and Danault got in position to neatly redirect Moore’s feed past Fleury for the only lead they would need.

But there was plenty more. By the time the first intermission arrived, Fiala had pumped in a power-play goal and Arvidsson boosted the lead to 3-0 as his intended pass toward Danault on a potential odd-man burst into the Minnesota zone instead ricocheted off a sliding Dakota Mermis and slipped through a surprised Fleury.

The best thing to come out of Wednesday was the sight of Arvidsson charging in and making a play. The winger has always been a determined skater since he hit the NHL in Nashville, but his energy is infectious and has been missed by the Kings. Back surgery in October put the start of his season in February. In his fourth game back on Feb. 20, the 30-year-old cut short his first shift and couldn’t return.

Another 14 games were lost. The Kings went 7-6-1 over that span and they managed themselves well up until their awful January when they didn’t have him for the first 50 contests. But they also feel like he’s the kind of addition they didn’t have to trade for. Last season, Arvidsson had 26 goals and 33 assists.

“Every team deals with injuries but Arvy’s kind of a special type of player,” Hiller said. “He is that Energizer bunny type of guy. Personality-wise, too. You always miss a player like that in your room. On the bench. During the game. He’s a heck of a player.”

Moore added: “He’s a really good player. Adds so much depth to our team. So good on the power play. Just to see him out there — he’s just a ball of energy and he’s huge for us.”

Arvidsson would also have a secondary assist on Anze Kopitar’s goal that came right as a power play was expiring. His right-handed presence has also been missed on the man advantage as the Kings flourished last season when he operated down near the goal line and was an effective puck mover as he surveyed options from there.

But the fluky goal was a joyous moment. Arvidsson regaled on the ice and shared later how happy he was to do it with his young daughter, Navy, in attendance.

“It’s been a long, long haul and long rehab process,” Arvidsson said. “Coming back, getting hurt again. The recent injury wasn’t anything related to the other stuff I had. That was good, but it was unlucky. It was hard mentally to kind of go into rehab and just kind of start the grind again. I’m happy to be back. It’s just a great feeling.”

Every game won’t be like Wednesday, which went into fracas mode in the third when 10 different 10-minute misconduct penalties were issued, ratcheting up to 156 penalty minutes. The NHL’s top penalty-killing team was perfect again, while the power play struck twice and would have had a third if Kopitar scored three seconds earlier. David Rittich pitched a 31-save shutout. Everything clicked.

As the Kings are built as the whole being greater than their parts, all those parts must work in sync and the best parts still must drive their engine. Kopitar hit the 1,200-point milestone Wednesday by assisting on Fiala’s goal and was among six forwards with 2 points. He had three goals on the back-to-back nights. Danault scored in both games. Fiala has 17 points in his last 15 contests. Kempe has 13 in his last 11.

“You need your big guys,” Hiller said. “They’re the big guys for a reason. They’ve showed a history of producing.”

The coach pointed out how rookie Alex Laferriere, who continues to impress, jump-started the Kings on Tuesday with his 11th goal of the season and how others like their younger players beyond their stars can also deliver key moments. Jordan Spence went without a goal for his first 54 games and now has two in his last four while regaining an everyday role on defense.

And if one of the older guards like Arvidsson can stay healthy and gets going, the Kings might be a team to contend with in the postseason.

(Photo of Viktor Arvidsson: Yannick Peterhans / Associated Press)





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