Though the Kings played a superior game to their effort Friday, they lost by an identical 3-2 score to the same opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, at Staples Center Saturday.
Defenseman Sean Walker and rookie center Rasmus Kupari lit the lamp for the Kings. Cal Petersen negated 27 of 30 shots.
Defenseman Devon Toews scored twice for the Avalanche while defenseman Cale Makar produced a goal and an assist. Winger Andre Burakovsky had two assists for the second straight night, stretching his point streak to five games. Jonas Johansson made 16 of 18 saves for his fourth win in six starts since being acquired by Colorado.
“They pushed, they played hard, to a man, through the whole lineup,” Kings Coach Todd McLellan said of his team despite its defeat.
McLellan said that in the dying days of a season condemned to end next week, he was attempting to focus on a specific area each night. Saturday, it was the forecheck, and McLellan liked what he saw for most of the game. Additionally, he said he was evaluating intangibles among his young group.
“We’re looking for the character part. That, I think, is as important at this time of year as structure, passing skills and all those types of things. We passed that test tonight,” McLellan said.
The Kings managed to piece together a solid third-period push including a promising rush and an opportunity for center Anze Kopitar to feed winger Lias Andersson in the slot. They did not record a shot on goal in the former instance, and were thwarted by a last-instant stickcheck by Makar in the latter.
They pulled Petersen with around two minutes to play but failed to score. They have not yet scored six-on-five this season, which has three games remaining for the Kings.
“That third period was as fast of a period as we’ve played in a long time,” McLellan said.
An early third-period power play breathed life into the Kings’ game. First they sustained pressure on one trip up the ice, and then they scored two seconds after Colorado’s penalty expired, 5:21 into the period.
Andersson extended his point streak to three games when he made a short pass to Kupari, who had somehow found ice between the circles that was quiet enough to load up a lively shot. It was Kupari’s first NHL point, and in his first game action since March 8.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling to score my first NHL goal. I’ve got to give credit to Lias, it was a great pass,” Kupari said.
Kupari said he continued working on his physical play and puck protection over the past two months. McLellan said he felt the rookie settled in as the game progressed, carried the puck with confidence and made effective use of his respectable shot.
In the second period, the Kings did not build significantly on the momentum of a strong finish to the first period. Their best shift of the second came right near its conclusion. Earlier, they needed an authoritative glove save from Petersen on a sterling chance for center Nazem Kadri during a power play to avoid falling down three goals.
Near the halfway mark of the game, Colorado earned some breathing room. They drew the Kings to the right side of the zone, at which point Toews activated, creeping from the left point to the left faceoff circle. There, he received the puck from Makar, lurched toward Petersen and whipped a shot high to the short side for the second time Saturday for his ninth goal of the campaign.
The first period featured the Avs darting out to a two-goal lead before the Kings halved their deficit, all on goals where a skate came into play.
Center Gabe Vilardi combined his formidable reach with his soft hands as he extended his stick around defenseman Patrick Nemeth to deliver a deft pass to Walker. Walker controlled the puck off his skate and then went backhand to forehand for his fourth goal of the season with 6:02 left in the first period. Walker has 16 points on the year, five of which have come in his last three games, and Vilardi has three goals and an assist over his three-game scoring streak.
“I liked our game tonight. There were moments where I thought where we were, especially early, maybe a little bit intimidated; they are a very good team,” McLellan said. “Once we started to play we were aggressive, our forecheck was much better than it was yesterday.”
The Avs had gone up by a pair 3:27 earlier off a power-play goal. A failed clearing attempt that hit the skate of forward Adrian Kempe extended Colorado’s zone time. While it was Makar to winger Mikko Rantanen on the power play for a one timer on Friday, the play went the opposite direction Saturday with Rantanen sending a nimble pass for a heavy one-timer from the point by Makar. Winger Gabriel Landeskog set an effective screen in front for Makar’s eighth goal and his second in as many games.
Petersen had to contend with point-blank shots from forwards Joonas Donskoi and J.T. Compher off miscues, and his work kept the Kings in a game where they were despite being doubled up in shots through 20 minutes.
Colorado had opened the scoring less than five minutes in when Compher’s pass off the rush first struck Burakovsky’s skate and then Kupari’s stick before landing on Toews’s blade for a rising wrist shot that became his eighth goal of 2021.
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