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Kopitar injured in Kings' win over Avs

by Curtis Zupke
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings continued their playoff push but suffered yet another major blow to their offense.

Anze Kopitar, the team's leading scorer and the 10th-leading scorer in the NHL entering Saturday, suffered a broken right ankle during the Kings' 4-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at Staples Center and will be out at least six weeks, according to coach Terry Murray.

It is a cruel setback for the Kings, who lost top-line winger Justin Williams to a dislocated shoulder on Monday. Kopitar plays on both special teams units and had thrived since centering the newly acquired Dustin Penner on the top line.

"There's quite a hole that's going to be there now with him out of the lineup for this length of time," Murray said. "But you know what? I've been through these kinds of things before with top guys being out with injuries. It's an opportunity for other guys to step up. The character of the team needs to step up. You've got to trust your structure and your system and give it the best opportunity you can as a group to finish games off and play the right way."

Kopitar got tied up with Colorado defenseman Ryan O'Byrne in the corner with 4:21 to go in the second period. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was helped off by teammates.

"He's our best player," captain Dustin Brown said. "We got to find a way, either way. We don't want to have your best player go down, but if that's the case, we need to shoulder the responsibility collectively and find a way because no one's going to feel sorry for us."

The injury overshadowed the Kings' seventh win in the past nine games.  Los Angeles, which has earned points in nine of its past 10 contests, will pull to within three points of third place in the Western Conference and first in the Pacific Division if Phoenix wins in regulation against division leader San Jose on Saturday night.

The Kings got third-period goals by Ryan Smyth and Trevor Lewis to put away Colorado and sweep the Avalanche for the first time in club history. The Kings also improved to 8-0-1 in their last nine games against Colorado.

The teams entered the game near the opposite ends of the conference standings, but something had to give in an intriguing goalie matchup, at least statistically. Jonathan Quick took a 6-0 career record against Colorado, including two shutouts, into the game while Peter Budaj was 6-1-1 lifetime against the Kings.

Budaj kept Colorado in the game through two periods, but Smyth spun away from Jonas Holos behind the net and backhanded it in just 96 seconds into the third period to put L.A. ahead 3-1.

It snapped a season-high 14-game goal-less streak by Smyth, who had last scored on Feb.23.  Smyth also added an assist when he set up Lewis for a wrist shot to stretch it to 4-1.
"It was really nice," Smyth said. "Obviously I was fighting a bit. The puck was going in our net more than us putting it in theirs. It's a relief. It's nice to contribute and feel a part, for sure."

Colorado got back into the game shortly after Kopitar went down.

Matt Duchene forced Drew Doughty to turn the puck over behind the net, and Paul Stastny grabbed it on the left side and fed Milan Hejduk for an open-net goal to bring Colorado within 2-1 with 1:39 remaining in the second.

Hejduk reached 20 goals for the 11th consecutive season, which tied Joe Sakic for the franchise record.

"Obviously he's getting up there a little bit, but you always know what you're going to get from Hedgy night in an night out and tonight, finally he was able to break the seal and score again," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said.

"It's been a while for him, he's been a little bit snake-bitten so hopefully he can continue that and carry it over on this stretch for us."

The Kings took a 2-0 lead into the second after Michal Handzus completed a pretty breakout on the power play. Doughty got the puck up the middle to Brown, who delivered a soft backhand pass that Handzus snapped in at 17:34.

Willie Mitchell opened the scoring midway through the first period with a slap shot from the left side with Penner screening Budaj.
Colorado fell to 3-20-2 since Jan.24, but can play spoiler with all of its remaining games against the West. The Avs haven't won a game in regulation since Feb.22, a 4-3 victory against St. Louis.
But Sacco liked what he saw.

"I was very pleased with our effort for the most part," he said. "Losing is obviously losing. We're not going to accept that. But I did think we had most hands on deck tonight."

Budaj remains one victory shy of becoming the third goalie in franchise history with 100 victories, behind Patrick Roy and Dan Bouchard.

Defenseman Shawn Belle was inserted into Colorado's lineup as Ryan Wilson was scratched with a knee injury. Avalanche forward Mark Olver also sat out with a head injury.

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