Los Angeles Kings right wing Justin Williams, center, scores against Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, right, as Ducks\' Sheldon Brookbank, left, watches in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Anaheim Ducks are finished with the Los Angeles Kings for this season—and just about done as far as their post-season chances are concerned.
The Kings, meanwhile, are right in the thick of things.
Alec Martinez, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams scored first-period goals, and the Kings kept pace in the Western Conference playoff picture with a 4-2 victory over the fading Ducks on Friday night.
"Right now, it's desperation time for us, obviously," Kopitar said. "I thought tonight we came out really strong. The first period we had was a good booster for us. When you do get a couple goals ahead, it's maybe a little easier to play the rest of the game. It's definitely easier than chasing from behind."
The Kings won the Freeway Faceoff series 5-1. Last season, the Ducks swept a season-ending home-and-home set with their Southern California rivals to clinch a playoff berth—marking the only time both teams made it to the post-season in the same year. This is the fifth time during the Ducks' 18-year rivalry with the Kings that they ended their season series with 10 or more games left on the schedule.
"Every time you get points within the division, it's big," Kopitar said. "If you look at the big picture, in the end we still have some division games that we have to take care of. There's going to be big games down the stretch, so we've just got to keep on going."
The Kings and Ducks both began this season in Europe. They both fired their head coach during a two-week span in December, and responded with impressive stretches of hockey that got them back in contention.
With just three weeks left on the schedule, the Kings are among five teams separated by five points for the last two spots in the conference. But the Ducks are hopelessly out of it, nine points behind them following a 3-6-1 skid.
Cam Fowler and defenceman Luca Sbisa scored for the Ducks, who outshot the Kings 43-20. Jonas Hiller made 19 of his 39 saves in the second period after giving up three goals on eight shots in the first. Teemu Selanne's two assists gave him 500 with Anaheim.
"We played hard at the end, and in the second period. But we weren't ready to play this hockey game," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "It starts in the first period and we weren't ready to start on time. The first period we weren't even out there. It was a one-team hockey game. But our goalie played awesome again tonight and we weren't able to get back into that game. We just weren't able to close it out."
Los Angeles' penalty-killing unit was perfect in 32 short-handed situations over the previous 11 games, but the Ducks got on the board at 3:41 of the second period—just 24 seconds after Drew Doughty was sent off for holding Jason Blake. Fowler cut the Kings' lead to 3-1 with a 55-foot one-timer past Jonathan Quick, his fourth goal this season and first on the power play.
The teams were skating four-on-four when Sbisa—back in the lineup after missing two games with a lower-body injury—completed an end-to-end rush by converting his own rebound to make it 3-2 with 16:53 left in the third.
But Mike Richards scored into an empty net in the final minute, ending a 25-game goal drought. It was only his second in his last 36 contests.
"When you win the second period 1-0 and get outshot 19-6, it's a testament to your goalie," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's why, when we made it 3-2, I thought this was going to be one of those rare games that we had no right to win but were going to. The key was when we had the power play with 6 minutes to go and just didn't put up any fight to put pressure on them."
The Kings scored on two of their first three shots against Hiller, who was making his club-record 31st consecutive start after beating Detroit 4-0 on Wednesday night. Martinez beat Hiller to the stick side at 2:40 of the opening period with a screened wrist shot from the left point.
Kopitar then got the puck in the neutral zone from Williams, carried it across the blue line and was forced wide by Lubomir Visnovsky before making a pinpoint 25-foot wrist shot from the left circle that found daylight between Hiller's right shoulder and the crossbar at 9:33.
Reigning MVP Corey Perry, who leads Anaheim with 34 goals and six game-winners, returned to the lineup after missing two games because of an injured right shoulder and committed an embarrassing turnover that led to the Kings' third goal just 7.1 seconds before intermission.
"Everybody knew the importance of the game and we knew what to expect," Boudreau said, "so there was no excuse for them coming out and just dominating and winning every battle like they did."
Notes: The sellout crowd was only the seventh for the Ducks in 35 home dates at Honda Center (17,174)—while the Kings have reached capacity in 31 of 33 at Staples Center (18,118). ... Hiller is 17-9-5 during his consecutive-game streak, which began on Jan. 12 with a 1-0 overtime loss at Calgary. The Kings' record for consecutive starts by a goalie is 23, shared by Gerry Desjardins (1969-70) and Felix Potvin (2000-01). ... Anaheim is 23-18-7 under Boudreau, and Los Angeles is 19-11-8 under Darryl Sutter. ... Kopitar's goal came on his 200th shot on net this season, making him the sixth player in Kings history with at least five seasons of 200 or more shots on goal, including C Marcel Dionne (12), LW Luc Robitaille (11), D Rob Blake (7), C Bernie Nicholls (6) and C Wayne Gretzky (5).