LAS VEGAS — For 52 minutes on Monday, the Los Angeles Kings‘ playoff hopes looked like they were on the verge of extinction.
Los Angeles trailed the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights, 2-0, at Staples Center and it would have been a whole lot worse if not for a dozen sensational saves by goalie Jonathan Quick. Then the Kings rallied to tie it on Anze Kopitar’s one-timer with 10.8 seconds left in regulation, then pulled out a 3-2 victory in overtime when Dustin Brown smashed in a rebound of a Kopitar shot with 1:46 left in OT.
The victory moved Los Angeles (34-24-5, 73 points) into the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference and also within a point of third place Anaheim in the Pacific Division. Now the Kings and Golden Knights play again just 24 hours later for the final time in the regular season on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Center.
“It’s huge,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said after Los Angeles defeated the expansion Golden Knights (41-16-5, 87) for the first time in three meetings. “We’re in a playoff race right now. We’re trying to get into the playoffs. We’re still a couple of points out. This team is in first place and I’m sure a lot of teams don’t expect us to win these two matches. So we got the first one out of the way. Now we need to go win another one.”
That might be easier said than done. Vegas, which is 12 points ahead of San Jose in the Pacific Division, is an amazing 24-5-2 at home this season and blitzed Quick and the Kings in the only previous meeting at T-Mobile Arena, 4-2, on Nov. 19.
That game wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. Vegas scored on three of its first nine shots, sending Quick the bench midway through the first period. Darcy Kuemper finished up and made 30 saves.
Still, the Kings are a desperate team these days. The dramatic comeback Monday night, which had a distinct playoff feel to it, figures to carry over to Las Vegas.
“Honestly, tomorrow matters even more now,” said Tyler Toffoli, who assisted on Brown’s game-winner. “We’ve just got to start preparing and be ready to go tomorrow in a really tough rink to play in.”
For Vegas fans, the game will be the first chance to view two key trade deadline acquisitions in right winger Ryan Reaves, obtained from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday to provide some much-needed toughness up front, and left winger Tomas Tatar, acquired on Monday morning from the Detroit Red Wings to add some scoring punch to the third line.
Reaves made his debut in Monday’s night loss to the Kings and had a team-high four hits as well as a penalty in seven minutes on the ice. Tatar, who has 16 goals and 12 assists this season, is expected to join the team and play Tuesday night.
The big question is will Marc-Andre Fleury, who had 41 saves in the loss and has started 11 consecutive games in net, start again for the Golden Knights or will they turn to backup Maxime Lagace, who had 27 saves to pick up the win the last time the two teams played at T-Mobile Arena?
“It happens to everybody,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said of Monday night’s tough loss. “I thought we played a great game. If we played this game over again the same way, I’d be happy again. I liked the way we played. It was a big point for us and they got two.”
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