By Barry M. Bloom
LOS ANGELES -- Their six-game losing streak by the boards, the Los Angeles Kings are hoping that the good feelings generated by Sunday night's 4-2 victory over the Rangers at Staples Center carry over to the road games they play this week prior to the All-Star break.
The Kings are at Vancouver on Tuesday night and Calgary on Wednesday night. When play resumes after Sunday's All-Star Game at Tampa Bay, the road trip will continue in Dallas and Nashville.
It's neither make nor break time yet with 35 games left to go in the regular season, but all of these are tough Western Conference opponents, a few of which are vying with the Kings for the two available wild card playoff berths in their own conference. At 55 points, the Kings and Colorado are tied for the second spot, although the Avalanche have two games in hand. For the Kings, it will be playoff hockey for the rest of the regular season.
"I think it was really important for us to get a win at home before we get on the road," first-season coach John Stevens said. "We've got a [tough] stretch of road games coming here. Yeah, I think it was really impressive the way [our guys] dug in and fought back."
The Kings had an awful first period and fell behind the Rangers, 2-0.
"It seemed like the ice was tilted to start the game," Stevens added. "It seemed like anything that could go wrong, did go wrong."
And then at the buzzer, ending the first period in front of Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers' net, the pattern of the game -- and perhaps the season -- irrevocably changed. There was a push and shove from Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith. Kings forward Adrian Kempe responded and the two came to blows.
The pair was assessed five-minute fighting majors, but Smith was given an additional two-minute minor that carried over to the start of the second period.
"You get a freebie like that of a power play at the end of the first period and then you're jumping on a fresh sheet of ice, you want to capitalize on it," said veteran Kings captain and leading score Anze Kopitar. "It's funny the way hockey works sometimes."
Just 30 seconds into the power play, Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin scored on a one-timer to put the Kings on the scoreboard. By the time the second session was out, the Kings had tallied three power play goals on Lundqvist, the goalie who dropped three overtime games to the Kings in this building on the way to losing the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
"The second period was arguably our best period this season," Kopitar said. "We've just got to play more like that."
The Kings held serve throughout the third period, center Trevor Lewis scoring into an empty net with 18 seconds to go. The losing streak was over.
Lundqvist had skated to the bench just a few ticks before the two-minute mark. It didn't escape Kopitar's view that good things happen for the Kings against the Rangers in Staples and bad things happen to the goalie known as "The King."
"Yeah, we have some good memories playing against them in this building," Kopitar said.
The Kings have won the Cup only twice since their inception in 1967 as an Original Six expansion team. Both have come lately -- in 2012 and '14 -- and Kopitar hoisted the Cup with those two teams. He's only 30, but he's in his 12th season, all with the Kings, a rarity in this National Hockey League era where the salary cap makes it very tough for teams to retain franchise players.
He leads the team by far in scoring this season with 48 points -- 18 goals and 30 assists in all 47 games. He's also the Kings' undisputed leader.
"The one thing I'll tell you is I think we have a really good group here," Stevens said. "We have some good players, but we have a really good group of people."
The Kings are back to some shallow times of late, making the playoffs only once since they defeated the Rangers in five games to win the '14 Stanley Cup. Last season's 86-point playoff miss led to the ousting of coach Darryl Sutter. He was replaced by assistant Stevens, and so the dreams of playoff promise began anew.
The Kings were doing just fine until they hit a wall and didn't pick up a point for six games. But that's the inevitable cycle of any season. A team just has to play through it. The Kings have a core of veteran players featuring Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick.
Quick, after missing most of last season with a groin injury suffered in the opening game, is back to his splendid self with a 2.34 goals against average in 38 games. The Kings have missed veteran center Jeff Carter, who's been out since Oct. 19 because of a lacerated left ankle tendon and isn't expected back until March. But Kopitar said he and the team never panicked, even as the losing streak continued to deepen.
"We dug ourselves into a bit of a hole," Kopitar said. "We need to get our game in order and put together a string of wins. It's not just holding on to playoff position. I know the end of the season is still a little ways away, but you can't put yourself down too many points. No, we never panicked. We have confidence in this group we can get it done."
The Kings have 35 games. And then the slate wipes clean, the grueling four-round, best-of-seven playoff season ahead. A shove, a punch, a power play goal. From that sequence, destiny calls.
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Barry M. Bloom has covered professional sports since 1976 and is a national reporter for MLB.com. He grew up as an Original Six Rangers fan in New York and was there for the first expansion to Los Angeles, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Oakland in 1967-68. Follow him on Twitter @boomskie. His blog is Boomskie on Baseball.