They combined for 13 shots through 30 minutes and things didn't loosen up until the third period. That's why it seemed like the seas parted when Anze Kopitar tossed a pretty backhand pass to Jeff Carter, whose 250th career goal allowed the Kings to beat Montreal 2-1 at Staples Center on Monday night.
Carter one-timed it into an open net 4:14 into the second period for a power-play goal and L.A. scratched out its fifth straight win. The Kings continued to taper for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and again they were anchored by goalie Jonathan Quick, who improved to 4-0-0 with 90 saves on 93 shots in his past four games. He recorded his first career win against Montreal in three tries.
"It's getting there, right?" Kings forward Justin Williams said. "We're under 20 [games left]. I look around our room, and I know I have confidence in everyone and I know they feel the same. When push comes to shove, it's time to show up, and we're getting close to that time."
The Canadiens began a four-game stretch away from home with a poor performance on special teams. Their fourth-ranked penalty-killing unit allowed Carter's goal, which came with Ryan White serving one of two penalties taken 200 feet from Montreal's net.
The Canadiens had one shot on goal on three power plays and didn't get into a rhythm until the third period against a Kings team that specializes in third-period closeouts. L.A. is 123-11-1 in the past 135 regular-season games in which it led after two periods.
"I didn't like our special teams tonight," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "Penalty kill needs to be better. Power play was good lately, but tonight we didn't generate enough."
Montreal doesn't play L.A. often, but Therrien called the Kings the "best defensive team in the League," and that was the sentiment in the Canadiens' dressing room after they got a taste of L.A.'s grind-it-out style. The Kings held the Canadiens to 18 shots, their second fewest this season and lowest since Dec.15.
Monday also marked the 41st time this season the Kings allowed two goals or fewer in a game.
"It was very playoff-type hockey," Montreal goalie Peter Budaj said. "They're a good team. They don't allow you to generate a lot of offense. They play a really good structured game and Quick made some big saves too. It was a disappointing game for us because I think we were right there with them. Maybe one or two lucky bounces."
Montreal's goal came on a fluke bounce, but it was the result of a good shift by P.K. Subban, who started the possession in L.A.'s end and sent a shot from the right wall that Quick redirected to the skate of Jarret Stoll and into the goal at 14:45 of the first.
The Kings enjoyed a dominant start and scored on a rush when trailer Jake Muzzin beat Budaj with a wrist shot 1:54 into the game. It was a rather soft goal by Budaj, who otherwise got Montreal through a third-period push.
Budaj didn't appear to have much chance on Carter's goal, but he took part of the blame.
"I read it there," said Budaj, who made 20 saves in his fourth straight start. "I read that play. I was there, and the puck went right through my body, through the seven-hole. It was unfortunate because I felt I was right there."
Budaj's starts might be numbered. Carey Price (lower body) was placed on injured reserve before the game, although he can be eligible to play Wednesday when Montreal visits the Anaheim Ducks. The move was reportedly done to open up a roster spot.
Asked if he's preparing to play more games, Budaj said, "You have to ask Carey."
Los Angeles came inches from taking a 3-1 lead at the end of the second when Drew Doughty hit the post and Kopitar missed an open net on a power play. But a one-goal lead is all Quick needs. He has a 1.79 goals-against average and three shutouts in 19 games since he came back from a groin injury.
"You want to make it as tough as possible for the other teams to score, and I think we did a great job of that tonight on the penalty kill and 5-on-5," Quick said. "We didn't give up much. We didn't give up many opportunities. We want to stick to playing that way."
It was L.A.'s first home win against Montreal since March 8, 2003.
Stoll played in his 700th game and Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty played in his 300th.