LOS ANGELES--Down by a goal in the third period of a must-win game Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, the Kings needed someone to step up in a big way.
Leave it to a rookie who had not yet scored an NHL point, and a utility player who had been a healthy scratch the last two games and hadn't scored a goal since last January to provide one of the most important points of the season thus far.
The 3-2 victory at Staples Center ended a stretch in which the Kings lost four straight, seven out of eight and fell from first in the Western Conference to last in the Pacific Division.
Kyle Clifford, a 19-year-old rookie who was a long shot to make the team out of training camp, set up the tying goal after cutting to the net from an angle. The puck was poked away by Florida defender Bryan McCabe, but went straight to Kings defenseman Peter Harrold, who saw an opening and shot it past Florida goalkeeper Tomas Vokoun 2 minutes 36 seconds into the third period.
Anze Kopitar then tucked in the winner with 2:43 remaining in the game.
“[McCabe] was down real low in front of the net because we had guys crashing,” Harrold said. “[The puck] ended up right on my stick and [Vokoun] couldn’t even see me….because he hadn’t made it all the way across the net and he had a bunch of guys right in a row, right in front of him.”
Fellow defenseman Matt Greene, who had a season-high eight hits, said Harrold often produces when given the chance.
“Every time he gets in the lineup, he does great things,” Greene said. “It was really good to see him get rewarded tonight…just an unlikely candidate given that he’s in and out of the lineup so much.”
Clifford, who has quickly become a crowd favorite for his willingness to mix it up with opponents, said his move to the net was something he has been working on both on the ice and in the video room.
“Just a power move,” said Clifford, who had a season-high six hits. “Getting to know what works in this league.”