Kings hold off rival Ducks 2-1, close in on division title
LOS ANGELES (AP) Late in a draining season, the Los Angeles Kings are glad to be in prime position to win the Pacific Division title. They're even happier to get one over on the Anaheim Ducks just in case these local rivals meet again in the playoffs in a couple of weeks.
Milan Lucic and Kris Versteeg scored 93 seconds apart in the second period, and the Kings closed in on just the second division title in franchise history with a 2-1 victory over Anaheim on Thursday night.
Jonathan Quick made 19 saves for the Kings, who opened a two-point lead on the Ducks atop the Pacific Division by snapping their three-game losing streak in the Freeway Faceoff rivalry series.
The three-time defending Pacific champion Ducks still have a game in hand, but the Kings would clinch their first division title since the 1990-91 Smythe Division crown with a home victory over Winnipeg on Saturday in their regular-season finale.
''We have a lot of work left to do, one massive game ahead of us, but home ice is very important,'' Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. ''The pride thing is important. I'm sure the Kings have probably won one division. Have they won any? I should know that. But it's important to us.''
Los Angeles holds the tiebreaker if the clubs finish tied atop the Pacific. The Ducks must visit Colorado on Saturday and NHL-leading Washington on Sunday to make up a snow-postponed game.
''That's what you want,'' Doughty said ''You don't want to be relying on other teams to beat other teams, and other teams to lose. We've relied on other teams before, and it didn't go so well for us. This year, we were really focused on determining our own destiny.''
The Pacific title looks nice in the rafters, but doesn't mean much from a practical standpoint: The winner faces Nashville in the first round, while the second-place finisher gets shorter flights against San Jose.
Ryan Kesler scored an early goal and John Gibson stopped 27 shots for Anaheim, which has lost three of four. While the Ducks lamented a lack of offensive punch, they also realize next week's games are more important than another banner.
''We're playing a pretty good brand of hockey,'' Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. ''I'm not going to fault what they did, either. We've got a few execution things we can shore up, but they got it done tonight and we didn't. We've got to keep pushing along. We've got two games left to get ready for the real thing.''
The Freeway Faceoff has reached a new level of enmity since the clubs' memorable seven-game meeting in the second round of the 2014 playoffs. After the Kings missed last season's playoffs and the Ducks finished one game short of the Stanley Cup Final, the local rivals would be ticketed for another second-round matchup if they can get past San Jose and Nashville.
''I think it was a playoff atmosphere, (but) I don't think it was a physical game,'' Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. ''We didn't do any of the hitting that I thought we were capable of. ... They outworked us for two periods. It wasn't the recipe that we've had when we've been in this building before, so they were pretty determined.''
After Kesler scored his 21st goal on a slick pass from Jakob Silfverberg, Lucic evened it 28 seconds into the second period. Versteeg then put the Kings ahead with a goal on the rebound of his own deflection of Brayden McNabb's shot.
Gibson went to the Ducks' dressing room early in the third period to fix a problem with his left skate blade, forcing backup Anton Khudobin to play 71 seconds in his first NHL action since Nov. 24. Co-starter Frederik Andersen is sidelined with a concussion, but hopes to be back for the playoffs.
NOTES: Anaheim's Sami Vatanen sat out with the flu. His 38 points this season are the most by a Ducks defenseman since the 2010-11 season. ... The Ducks also were still without injured D Kevin Bieksa and forwards Rickard Rakell, Brandon Pirri and David Perron ... Los Angeles scratched D Alec Martinez for the third straight game with an undisclosed injury.