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Kings outlast Avalanche in shootout

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- The cure for the Los Angeles Kings' two-game slide was practically presented to them on a silver platter in the form of baby-faced rookie goaltender Sami Aittokallio, who was thrust into goal against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in his first NHL game.

The first few minutes were predictable: two goals allowed on the first six shots. But Aittokallio held his ground with 23 saves before leaving midway through the third period with cramps in both legs. It wasn't until Anze Kopitar slipped a backhand past Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the third round of a shootout that Kings finally beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Thursday night.

The hard-earned two points allowed L.A. to jump ahead of the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues for fourth in the Western Conference with 50 points. They were happy to get the two points, though not with the way they did it.

"I think everybody knows we gave them a point tonight," Kopitar said after the Avalanche forced the game to a tiebreaker by overcoming a 2-0 deficit. "We weren't as sharp, and at the start of the second. I thought halfway through the third we picked it up again and played a puck possession game in their zone and that's where you want to be. You just got to do it for 60 minutes."

That's been an issue the past three games for L.A., which next hosts the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. Anaheim beat the Kings 4-3 in a shootout last Sunday.

"We've got to improve as a team," Kopitar said. "We know what our goal is. I guess in two weeks or three weeks we're where we want to be, and what kind of style we want to play, and sitting back is not the one to play. We've got to correct that and be a little better the next game."

Aittokallio, 20, was the second-youngest goalie to start for Colorado, behind only 19-year-old Marc Denis in 1996. He was recalled this week because Semyon Varlamov was injured and coach Joe Sacco decided to give him a look. But Aittokallio went prone after a leg appeared to buckle under him while the Kings were attacking shorthanded.

"Both legs cramped up," Sacco said "Obviously it was pretty serious because he couldn't finish the game. Just dehydrated."

The Avalanche, playing the second half of a back-to-back after winning 4-1 at Anaheim on Wednesday, also lost defenseman Erik Johnson to a wrist injury -- so all things considered, it was an impressive effort for a Colorado team headed for an early summer.

"There's been lots of positives the last two games," said Giguere, who got the win on Wednesday -- two days after calling out his team for its poor play. "We needed a bit of a push back from the guys. I think we did that the last couple of nights … we had a rookie goaltender, his first NHL start in goal. It's always a tough way to go. He battled hard for us."

Giguere replaced Aittokallio and made 12 saves in 15:36 of regulation and overtime -- but was beaten by Kopitar, a signature Carter backhand and Dustin Brown's wrist shot in the shootout.

"They made three pretty lethal moves there in the shootout," center Paul Stastny said. "It's a good point. I think it's kind of a good experience when you realize that when do play these tough games back-to-back, you've got to find a way to get a couple of points or a point."

Colorado got even at 5:15 of the third period when Stefan Elliott's point shot was deflected through traffic and into the net with Jonathan Quick sliding to his left. Patrick Bordeleau was credited with his first NHL goal.

The Avalanche carried their momentum from the second period and outshot the Kings 9-0 to start the third. They gained a power play on Drew Doughty's high sticking penalty but couldn't convert as Aittokallio went down during an awkward move in the net with the Kings attacking shorthanded.

After the quick start, Los Angeles had a big letdown second period and didn't put a shot on goal until Kopitar's easy wrister with 7:05 remaining.

L.A. was outshot 11-6 in the middle period and saw half of its lead vanish after Colorado's hard work finally paid off. David Jones freed the puck from Carter behind the net and Stastny quickly stuffed it past Quick at 16:19. Stastny scored his first goal since he came back from a foot injury Tuesday

Aittokallio's early nerves didn't get any help from his teammates, who took two penalties in the first five minutes, including a high-sticking penalty by Jones three seconds after the puck drop. Carter ripped a wrist shot high from the left circle that banked in off the post at 5:27 with Brad Malone serving a holding penalty. Carter's 24th goal tied him with John Tavares of the New York Islanders for third in the NHL.

At 7:14, Mike Richards grabbed Jake Muzzin's fanned shot and wristed it past Aittokallio from the high slot for a 2-0 lead.

"We took three penalties in the first 12 minutes of the game," Sacco said. "That's certainly going to sit you back on your heels a little bit. Not the way you want to start your young goaltender out. I thought after that he played well."

Milan Hejduk missed a seventh straight game with a shoulder injury.

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