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Kings control divisional destiny after vintage win over Ducks

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Kings have struggled to play their brand of defensive hockey since they clinched a playoff berth on March 19. 

For over two weeks LA slogged through the regular season falling closer to the Anaheim Ducks in the chase for the Pacific Division with a 3-6-0 record. On Thursday with a chance to put a stranglehold on the Pacific against the Ducks, the Kings found their shutdown game, limiting Anaheim’s scoring chances in a bruising 2-1 victory over their Southern California rival.

The Kings have 101 points with one game left and can clinch the Pacific a win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. The Ducks have 99 points and two games left. They’ll need to pass the Kings in points because LA has more regulation and overtime wins – the first tiebreaker.

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“I think that’s the best game by far since we clinched,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “I mean you just look at how we played in our own zone. There’s games when we score five goals and don’t play our type of hockey. I think that’s a better example of what we’re about than the games we’ve been playing in.”

Anaheim got a goal in the first period from Ryan Kesler to make the game 1-0. But it was their only real offensive highlight of the night. The Ducks fired just 20 shots on goal. According to the website Natural Stat Trick, the Kings attempted 66 shots to Anaheim’s 44 at even strength.

“There really wasn’t much out there,” Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. “Two pretty big teams that can skate and like to get in on the forecheck so any time you have a Grade A scoring chance you had to make it count because you probably weren’t going to get another one.”

The Ducks played the game without several of their top position players. Forward Rickard Rakell was out with appendicitis and forward David Perron was injured with a shoulder problem. Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen was a late scratch with the flu.

This made it tough for the Ducks to deal with a Kings team playing vintage LA hockey.

The Kings’ first goal came off strong play down low. Forward Anze Kopitar got the puck to the front of the net to Tanner Pearson. He fed Milan Lucic for a score that made the game 1-1 just 28 seconds into the second.

Then 2:01 into the second, Kris Versteeg found himself uncovered in front of the net off a Brayden McNabb shot. He put the puck into the net off a scrambling John Gibson for the game-winner.

Anaheim forward Corey Perry had an opening in front of the King’s net in the third period but shot the puck wide. It was one of the few sterling scoring chances LA allowed all game. 

“We wanted to play better defensively, I don’t think – we don’t want to win games scoring four or five goals. We want to win games by letting in one and we were able to do that tonight against a really good team who kind of owned us so far this year throughout the regular season,” Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty said. “We were really determined to win it and it was a pretty important game.”

In the past the Ducks were the team that had strived to win the division and the Kings were the group that waited to do their damage in the postseason. There was a feeling after this game that they had flip-flopped to a degree. 

Anaheim has won the last three divisional titles and not gone further than a conference final. Winning the division important for pride and home ice reasons, but ultimately it hasn’t yielded any major success postseason success.

“We’re just trying to get in the playoffs, that’s what we’ve been trying to do this whole time, so we accomplished that and hopefully we can push through the end here and be ready to go with whoever we’re facing,” captain Ryan Getzlaf. “You’re going to face Nashville or San Jose. I mean they’re both great hockey teams. We’re going to have to be prepared no matter who we face.”

After missing the playoffs last season, the Kings may feel more importance on winning the Pacific. Not only do they want to win the division, they want to play their best hockey going into the postseason. Thursday was an indication they were heading in the right direction.

“We don’t have it yet. We have a lot of work left to do and one massive game ahead of us. Home ice is very important, and the pride thing is very important. I know the Kings have won one division title, so it is very important to us,” Doughty said. “There are so many factors that go into it, and we’re looking to do that. We don’t want to put any extra pressure on ourselves, just go out there and play our game and hopefully come out on top.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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