The Kings overcame an early two-goal deficit and rallied to obtain a third period lead, but it wasn’t enough as they fell 4-3 in a shootout to the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday evening at the Air Canada Centre.
Toronto came into the night hot, riding a four-game win streak, and having lost only once in regulation time in their previous 10 contests. The Maple Leafs also came into the game flaunting the NHL’s top offense.
Establishing a lead early in games has been an issue for the Kings this season; who failed to get a puck past Toronto’s James Reimer in the opening 20 minutes Sunday. For the Kings, it was their fifth straight first period without registering a goal.
The Maple Leafs, however, who were gunning fresh off of a 4-1 win Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings, found the scoreboard twice in the opening frame. This, after Jonathan Quick robbed Toronto’s Tyler Bozak of a couple of golden scoring opportunities in the opening minutes of play.
With six minutes remaining in the first, Mike Santorelli beat Jonathan Quick with a wrap-around attempt that deflected off the stick of Anze Kopitar, and with :30 seconds to play in the period, Cody Franson whistled home a snap shot from atop the point.
The Kings, frustrated offensively after struggling to score in Ottawa, caught a couple of quirky bounces that helped them get on the board.
“We’ve played as well as we can. We’re a different team than we were last year,” Darryl Sutter noted following the game. “We need great goaltending and we needs guys to score big goals. Usually that comes out of your top guys.”
With just under four minutes to play in the second period and down two goals, Kyle Clifford lofted a pass high in the air from deep in the neutral zone toward Justin Williams, who was first in attacking Toronto’s zone. Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner attempted to play the airborne puck, but mishandled it, allowing Justin Williams to skate in alone on James Reimer.
Williams never fully controlled the bouncing puck, and after a couple of caroms off of his pants and shin pad, Williams caught the puck with his stick at the last second to chip it past the Toronto goaltender.
For Williams, it was his eighth goal of the season; his third in the past five games.
With the final seconds of the period ticking away, Dwight King drove hard to Toronto’s net, tying the game for the Kings with his third goal of the season.
King, who transitioned low into the zone with the puck after covering Robyn Regehr defensively atop the Maple Leafs’ zone, used his size and strength to protect the puck and drive it straight toward James Reimer’s crease.
After jamming away from point-blank range, the puck slowly dribbled through Reimer’s pads only to get inches past the goal line. It was enough, though, and the Kings went into the third period with a 2-2 tie.
“You’ve got to try to find ways to score goals,” King said following the loss. “Some games, those shots go in. Some games, they get blocked. The mindset of getting pucks there and getting bodies there is, I think, what we’re focusing on.”
Just over a minute into the third period, the Kings took a 3-2 lead when Jarret Stoll showed tenacity in driving the puck hard into Toronto’s zone. Stoll hit Justin Williams with a cycle pass, who then found Marian Gaborik open on James Reimer’s back-door.
Gaborik’s first shot attempt was stuffed by Reimer’s right pad, but he was able to tuck the rebound past the Toronto netminder to score his fifth goal of the season. For Gaborik, it was his first point since November 25.
“Our effort got better,” Dwight King said of the Kings’ comeback. “Not the greatest start but I think once we got out legs and got the goal, we built up the momentum. You’ve got to bear down a little bit on the PK there at crucial times. It was nice to see that we could dig ourselves out of a hole.”
With just over 11 minutes left to play in regulation, Trevor Lewis was sent to the box for a incidental high-stick on Toronto’s David Booth. The Maple Leafs’ power play needed only eight seconds to tie the game. After two gorgeous cross-ice feeds, James van Riemsdyk shoveled home Toronto’s third goal of the evening.
With a tie score after 60 minutes, the Kings headed into their seventh overtime game of the season. The Kings outshot the Maple Leafs 3-1 during the extra period, but neither club could bury the winner.
In the shootout, Joffrey Lupol scored for Toronto, and Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, and Anze Kopitar were all denied by James Reimer – clinching the 4-3 win for Toronto.
“These overtime and shootout games, we just have to pull through somehow,” Marian Gaborik said following the game. “We haven’t been successful in these this year, but we battled back and we got that point. We just need to get some more points on the road.”
The Kings are now 1-3 in shootouts this season, and 2-5 overall in games that have extended past regulation time.
Justin Williams (1G, 1A) and Alec Martinez (2A) led all Kings players in points scored (2), Marian Gaborik in shots taken (7), Trevor Lewis in hits delivered (7), Trevor Lewis in shots blocked (3), and Drew Doughty in minutes played (32:51). Jonathan Quick made 28 saves in the loss.
With the overtime loss, the Kings’ record falls to 15-10-6; their mark away from STAPLES Center dips to 4-6-5. The Kings are now 1-2-1 on their current five-game road trip, which they’ll finish Tuesday night when they take on the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center. The puck is slated to drop at 5:00PM PT.