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Kings blank Coyotes, clinch playoff berth

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- There was no third-period letdown for the Los Angeles Kings. Instead, they locked down their place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a tremendous finish.

Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar scored 40 seconds apart in the third period and the Kings clinched a playoff berth with a 4-0 win against the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center on Wednesday night.

It marks the fifth straight postseason appearance for Los Angeles, which last accomplished the feat from 1987-93. But there was no celebratory acknowledgement from the 2012 Cup champions.

"I think we've [added to] the evolution of this team," captain Dustin Brown said. "Maybe four or five years ago this was a big deal. Now, this is just part of the process.

"There's nothing to celebrate about making the playoffs. That's not a goal, it's an expectation."

The Kings were coming off a blown third-period lead Monday against the Minnesota Wild, the second time this season they had lost when leading after two periods. The other came March 17, when Phoenix rallied from a 2-1 deficit.

Leading 2-0 going into the third, Carter beat Coyotes goalie Thomas Greiss with a wicked wrist shot from the left side at 9:10 for his 27th goal. Kopitar got his 25th goal at 9:50 when he hammered home Marian Gaborik's pass on the power play. At the other end, the Kings allowed five shots in the third period en route to their 12th shutout of the season, a new franchise record.

"The last time we owed them one," defenseman Alec Martinez said. "That was the focus we took going into the third.

"I said it last game: We didn't play a full 60 minutes. I think we did that tonight. We were making plays. I think it's important in the third, especially with a lead … you've got to keep making plays and pushing the pace. You can't just sit on a lead anymore, especially in the West, and at this time of the year."

Phoenix was trying to jump over the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card spot, but again generated little offense in a desperation game. The Coyotes' 17 shots on goal were a season-low. Phoenix has scored two goals in its past three games.

"I thought they just played a better game tonight," Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal said. "They out-competed us, outhit us, outplay us today. It was simple as that.

"We have five games left. We are still not in the playoffs right now. We all know how important these points are. We have to make sure we win the rest and get in."

Defenseman Drew Doughty had one of his finer offensive games this season and goalie Jonathan Quick recorded a 17-save shutout for Los Angeles, which will play at the San Jose Sharks on Thursday in a likely preview of the Western Conference First Round series.

Doughty capped crisp passing and execution on the power play for a 2-0 lead. Doughty set up in the left circle for Martinez's pass, stopped the puck and wristed it in at 2:27 for his 10th goal and second in 19 games.

The Coyotes showed little fight through two periods and put nine shots on goal through 32 minutes. They would have trailed 3-0 going into the third period, but Greiss made a breakaway stop on Carter just before the buzzer.

Tanner Pearson gave the Kings a 1-0 lead 1:20 into the game. After he rushed back to get onside, Pearson drove the right wing and kneeled down to one time Carter's cross-ice pass. It was Pearson's third goal this season; two have come against Phoenix.

"We gave up a goal early, got chasing the game right from the beginning," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "That probably wasn't the ideal circumstances to put ourselves in."

The Kings came out solid defensively, clogged the shooting lanes and allowed five harmless shots by the Coyotes in the opening period.

"They did a good job of blocking us out and keeping us from getting in the zone," Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle said. "On their penalty kill and our power play, we didn't do a good enough job to get pucks to the net."

Los Angeles is one win short of matching the team record of 46, set in 1990-91. It was the franchise's 1,500th regular-season win.

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