ANAHEIM -- It may have taken three-fourths of the season, but the Kings are finally playing well from start to finish.
They scored three goals in the opening period Friday night against the Ducks and held on to win their third straight game, 4-2, at Honda Center, keeping them in the thick of the six-team race for the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference.
“Our starts have been excellent,” said Justin Williams, who scored the final goal of the opening period with 7.1 seconds remaining. "Although we’ve kind of made them interesting a little bit of late, we’ve still been able to close them out, so I think our starts have been a real key to our success."
They couldn’t say that before acquiring Jeff Carter in a trade Feb. 23. In fact, they were by far the lowest-scoring first-period team in the NHL at that point.
In the 10 games since Carter arrived from the Columbus Blue Jackets, however, the Kings have outscored their opponents, 17-6, in the opening period. In the previous 61 games, they managed just 28 first-period goals. They've since moved from 30th in the league in first-period scoring to 28th.
“It certainly helps to get your legs underneath you,” said Anze Kopitar, who also scored in the opening 20 minutes.
Carter didn’t score against the Ducks, but seems to be attracting enough attention that others are getting more scoring opportunities.
Alec Martinez gave the Kings a 1-0 lead just 2:40 into the game when he fluttered a point shot through traffic and into the net. Kopitar then scored at the 9:33 mark when he made a nice move around former teammate Lubomir Visnovsky and made an even better shot into the top left corner.
Williams finished off the first-period scoring when a turnover by Corey Perry turned into a 2-on-1 with he and Drew Doughty.
“We scored a couple goals that the goalie, for sure, would like back,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “We haven’t got many breaks the last couple months.”
The Kings didn’t flinch when the Ducks scored early in the second period and again in the opening minutes of the third to cut the deficit to 3-2. Twenty seconds later, Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller made a dazzling glove save on Carter from the slot, and the Kings were later forced to kill a power play that began with just under six minutes remaining.
They remained calm the whole time, Williams said.
“Even when they scored to make it 3-2, got a late power play, Hiller made a great glove save on Carter, those things together, it didn’t seem to phase our bench,” he said. “We just kept plugging along and knew we were going to close it out.”
They managed to hem the Ducks in their own zone long enough that Hiller couldn’t be pulled from the crease until about 30 seconds remained in regulation. That was just enough time for Mike Richards to score into the empty net, his first goal in 26 games, with an assist going to Dustin Brown, giving him a career-best 10-game point streak.
“The last 2 ½ minutes we did a realty good job,” Sutter said.
It all started with the first 20.