LOS ANGELES –
The Los Angeles Kings
kept on ticking without their top two scorers, while time is running out fast for the Dallas Stars
In a tight game worthy of the Western Conference playoff race, Kings defenseman Matt Greene
scored the go-ahead goal with 7:10 remaining in regulation to lift Los Angeles to a 3-1 victory against Dallas on Saturday at the Staples Center.
The Kings moved into fourth place in the conference with 96 points -- L.A. and Phoenix have the same number of points, but the Kings have a game in hand.
Dallas remains five points out of the eighth and final spot in the West with five games to play, including a Sunday night visit to Anaheim.
The Kings improved to 3-1 without the injured Anze Kopitar
and Justin Williams
. Coach Terry Murray changed up his lines and defensive pairings to produce more offense, and it resulted in goals by depth players Greene and Wayne Simmonds.
"We were playing well with them and I think we just have to carry that momentum over," Simmonds said. "I think it's a huge confidence boost that we can win without those two."
There is still concern about L.A.'s offensive depth, but Saturday was the grind-it-out-game they need to keep winning. It featured only two penalties – coincidental minors by Brad Richardson
and Mike Ribeiro
"I think our identity is a good defensive team, and the offense comes through that," Greene said. "When you're missing those big points, obviously we know… our goal-scoring is down, but we're playing the same way."
The Stars are winless in six straight, including the first three of a four-game tour through the Pacific Division, thanks to Greene.
The veteran defenseman shot the puck from the right side and watched it bounce off of Alex Goligoski
's skate and into the net at 12:50 after Simmonds had centered the puck and had it carom off Goligoski.
The play was indicative of the playoff-type game where one bounce tilts the outcome. Simmonds said he was trying to pass the puck to Kyle Clifford
, and Greene said he was just throwing the puck on net.
"I didn't really see the play happen," Goligoski said. "I just kind of tried to go the net with the guy and felt the puck hit my skate. It's kind of one of those where you hope it doesn't go in."
It was Greene's second goal of the season and his first in 20 games. Dustin Brown
added an empty-net goal with eight seconds remaining to seal it.
Meanwhile, Dallas continued its freefall. The Stars led the Pacific on Jan. 14 with 57 points but have since gone 12-15-6, including a 1-5-3 record in their past nine games.
The close loss came after a discouraging 6-0 loss to San Jose. The Stars locker room was sullen afterward and some players will still in uniform when reporters were let in, but the players tried to remain upbeat.
"It's a cliché, but we've just got to work harder and the breaks will come," Dallas captain Brenden Morrow
said. "We felt pretty confident as the game went along and, going into the third it was a tie game, a game we could get, but we just didn’t have that extra step to get to the loose pucks."
Dallas coach Marc Crawford lamented that "we put both goals in our net today" and said, "all you can do is keep persevering."
Goligoski was more blunt about his team's outlook.
"We've probably got to win out to have a chance," Goligoski said. "We really haven't been getting the bounces that we've been needing, but (we'll) take them one game at a time. I think we've got to run the table here."
Lack of production from their top forwards has played a part in the Stars' struggles. Loui Eriksson
has one goal in his last 10 games and Ribeiro has one in his last nine.
This one was a back-and-forth game through the first 25 minutes before each side traded goals on consecutive shots within 73 seconds in the second period.
The Kings took a 1-0 lead at 4:15 when Willie Mitchell
fired a slap shot from the right point that Simmonds redirected through Kari Lehtonen
. Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric
swiped at the puck unsuccessfully in the crease before it crossed the goal line.
Brad Richards tied it at 5:28 when he took a pass from Jamie Benn
on a 3-on-2 rush and fired a wrist shot from the right circle that trickled through Jonathan Quick
. It was a badly-needed goal for the Stars -- and for Richards, who had scored only once in his previous 10 games.
Karlis Skrastins returned to the lineup from a lacerated thigh injury for the Stars after he missed the previous four games. Adam Burish
missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury. Nicklas Grossman
(lower body) also sat out for Dallas.