Los Angeles, which is 4-0-1 in its past five, jumped the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference and is now one point behind Vancouver for second place in the Pacific Division. The Kings are 3-0-0 against the Canucks; they play two more times, on March 21 in Los Angeles and April 6 in Vancouver.
"The closer you get to playoffs, the more you want to be in it," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're not going to accept anything but to be in it, and right now Vancouver is one of those teams in our way, second in the division, and we still have a really good shot at being in that spot."
The Kings were 13th in the Western Conference on Feb. 5, but they are 12-3-1 in 16 games since to move back into a playoff position.
"Are we back in now? Well all right, but I want to keep climbing," said forward Justin Williams, who set up Tyler Toffoli's power-play goal late in the first period and scored early in the second. "We've turned it around here a little bit, but we know there's a long way to go."
Los Angeles has turned things around on the road since Feb. 5. The Kings were 5-12-6 away from Staples Center to that point, but they have gone 7-2-0 since, and that bodes well for them since nine of their final 15 games are on the road.
"If we can turn on a switch, it's nice to have," Doughty said. "I think the games just got more important and guys were sick of talking about why we were so bad on the road, so we decided to turn it around."
Jonathan Quick made 19 saves for the Kings (79 points), who are tied with the Calgary Flames for third in the Pacific Division. The Flames hold the tiebreaker with 33 regulation and overtime wins (ROW) to the Kings' 31.
"Every game right now is big where we are in the standings," said Anze Kopitar, who scored 25 seconds into the third period and assisted on Marian Gaborik's empty-net goal with 4:24 left. "It's not where we want to be, but that's the way it is."
Goalie Eddie Lack made 15 saves for the Canucks, who are 1-6-1 against the Kings over the past two seasons.
"I thought we lost the goaltending, I thought we lost special teams, and that's two huge parts," Lack said. "They're a tough team to play against. You've got to give them credit."
Neither team managed a shot on its first power play, but the Kings converted on the first shot of their second opportunity after Canucks forward Derek Dorsett took a slashing penalty away from the play.
Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin started the play with a cross-ice pass from the left point to Williams at the right faceoff dot, and Williams one-touched it back across the ice and through the legs of Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis to Toffoli inside the bottom of the left faceoff circle. Toffoli quickly lifted a shot high over Lack's blocker for his 20th goal, first in 10 games, with 3:19 left in the first period.
"I'm disappointed," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. "I thought we had a real good first period. I thought we played well, but we came out, we got a penalty, and they score on their power play."
Williams doubled the lead 3:59 into the second period, this time as the recipient of a nice backdoor pass from Brayden McNabb. The Kings defenseman was allowed to walk in unchallenged from the point to just below the left faceoff dot, forcing Lack to come out and challenge, before passing to Williams as he emerged on the other side, after circling behind the net, for an unchecked tap-in goal.
McNabb was surprised to have so much time and space.
"A little bit, yeah," he said. "I knew [Williams] was coming back around and wanted to wait for him, and it worked out."
Los Angeles outshot Vancouver 76-35 in the first two games, but the Canucks controlled play for long stretches early in the first period Thursday, outshooting the Kings 9-4. But they couldn't beat Quick, who robbed Jannik Hansen with his blocker 2:15 into the first period and denied Daniel Sedin alone in the slot five minutes later.
"He showed today why he is one of the best in the world," Sedin said of Quick. "This team showed they are a top team in the League, there is no question about that. The way they played, especially when they are up. They are a tough team to get chances against."
Los Angeles began to take over in the second period, winning battles along the boards and pinning Vancouver in its end for long shifts with an aggressive, hard-hitting forecheck. It paid off early in the third when Hamhuis was pressured by Trevor Lewis in the corner and had his backhand pass intercepted by Kopitar, who held off the Canucks defenseman before beating Lack blocker side from 15 feet.
"The icing on the cake was the goal by Kopitar," Williams said. "Two-goal deficits and three-goal deficits are just mentally so different."
Lack blamed himself for the third goal.
"I thought he was going to go high, and he sniped it low," Lack said. "It's on me and it's definitely something I need to work on."
Not that it would have made a difference the way the Kings defended late. Vancouver didn't get a shot the first 10:25 of the third period, when Quick made a great glove stop on Sedin in the high slot to preserve his fifth shutout of the season, the 36th of his career.
"They showed why they win the Cups," Desjardins said. "They had a lot of patience, they had a lot of presence. I did though think that's the best game we've played against them this year."
The Canucks have two more chances to be even better, but the Kings expect to keep raising their level as the playoffs get closer.
"We have a team that I feel is able to get to another level when we need to," Williams said.