In their first game with gritty defenseman Matt Greene back in the lineup, the Kings grinded through a 2-1 win Thursday night on goals by Kyle Clifford and Drew Doughty. L.A. won its fourth straight at home and improved to 17-4-1 at Staples Center.
The Kings broke through a stubborn Sergei Bobrovsky, who kept Columbus in a chippy game that saw Brandon Dubinsky receive a match penalty at the buzzer. Greene welcomed it in his first game since the season opener Jan. 19; he underwent back surgery five days later.
"It's fun – it's the best way to get into it," Greene said. "Get that playoff atmosphere right away. They're battling for points, and we are, too. So it's a good game to get into."
The Kings remained in fourth place in the Western Conference. Their 55 points are the same as the San Jose Sharks, but L.A. has seven more non-shootout wins. L.A. won the Stanley Cup from the eighth seed last season, opening all four series on the road, but the Kings admit they want to start at home this time.
"We're just looking for home ice," Greene said. "That's it. We got to eat up points. We got to just keep playing good hockey going in. It's always good to go in on a high note, and that's what we're trying to do."
Columbus played its fifth game in seven days and looked like a tired team in the first two periods. The Blue Jackets saw their five-game winning streak end, but still sit eighth in the Western Conference with 49 points, two more than the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings, both of whom have two games in hand.
"Five games, seven nights, three different time zones," defenseman James Wisniewski said. "We've done a pretty good job. We're disappointed with this loss, but we'll forget about it."
Columbus lost Matt Calvert to a broken finger in the first period, a blow to a team that was already without Artem Anisimov, Adrian Aucoin and Nikita Nikitin. Coach Todd Richards said he'll probably be out a little while.
That size and skill was needed at the end of this road trip against a team like Los Angeles.
"It wasn't a good recipe," Richards said. "They're a really committed group in how they play the game. They're big. They skate well and everyone is committed, from their most-skilled player to their least-skilled player. They dump the puck, they'll forecheck you, they wait for you to break. But the one thing they all do is defend, and they're committed to defending -- whether it's blocking shots or taking hits or working hard. They make things extremely difficult."
Los Angeles is dominant with a third-period lead, and made a 2-1 lead stand up through the final 20 minutes after going ahead to stay against Bobrovsky (21 saves) at 13:32 of the second. Clifford snapped home a loose puck out of a scrum after Brad Richardson dug it out from behind the goal line. Clifford scored for the first time since his two-goal game on March 16.
The response score came after Columbus got life on Dalton Prout's first NHL goal, on a wrist shot from up top that got through Jonathan Quick at 12:07. Prout coincidentally played with Clifford for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.
"It was nice to see him and play against him. He plays hard," Clifford said.
Clifford jawed at Dubinsky after the buzzer scrap and said he was defending Drew Doughty, who hit Dubinsky. Asked about Dubinsky, Clifford said, "Just a cheap shot. That's his personality. We've got guys out there and he goes after Dewey, who's not our toughest player. Not the smartest thing, but it's good to get the win."
The Blue Jackets had nine shots on goal through 55 minutes and could have faced a bigger deficit were it not for Bobrovsky, who made remarkable saves on Trevor Lewis and Dustin Brown as well as a great glove grab on Anze Kopitar.
Columbus direly needed to get something from its power play but went 0 for 2 and is 0 for 17 in its past eight games – not enough chances in the Blue Jackets' minds.
"We have to protect the puck better and be a little bit more efficient in the neutral zone to spend more time in their end and cause them to chase us more times than not," Prout said. "Keep them out for a longer time so they have to take those penalties."
L.A.'s power play continued to hum with a 4-on-3 tally by Doughty to open the scoring. Doughty took the puck from Mike Richards on the left side and chipped it off Fedor Tyutin's leg and past Bobrovsky at 8:35 of the first period for his sixth goal. Doughty, who had one goal in his first 37 games, now has five in his last seven games. Kopitar earned his 300th career assist on Doughty's goal.
The Kings have connected at a 24.2 percent success rate (32 for 132) on the power play in their last 40 games.
Coach Darryl Sutter was more pleased about the way his team triumphed.
"We played desperate against a desperate hockey club," Sutter said. "There was a lot going on out there. Typical Columbus and L.A. game, right?"
Justin Williams left the game briefly when he blocked a shot.