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A Dose of March Madness for the Kings

This is what the Kings and Kings' fans hope to see a lot at the STAPLES Center this season. (LAist/Jimmy Bramlett)
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Some things have no explanation. There are the unidentified flying objects that could be ultra-secret spy planes, extraterrestrials or mere hallucinations. There’s the 1988 World Series champion Dodgers. There’s 15-seed Lehigh and Norfolk State defeat two-seed Duke and Missouri on Friday in the NCAA Tournament. On Saturday night there was Dustin Penner for the Kings in their 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Eyebrows were raised at STAPLES Center when Penner assisted on Anze Kopitar’s goal in the first period. But nothing prepared the 18,118 sold-out masses for what was to come in the third period. Just as the Kings looked too fatigued to continue, Trevor Lewis and Penner rush on a 2-on-1 break with Penner getting behind everyone, crashing to the crease and breaking the 1-1 tie 8:04 in the third period.

“[Jarret] Stoll gets it out, Lewis gets around his guy, wins the race for the puck and we just drive the back door,” Penner said about his first goal since Feb. 7. “Hopefully this is something that will help me in a subconscious level.”

While Penner hoped this goal gets his offensive output on the right track, it really seemed to spark the Kings. Coming off of their 4-2 win in Anaheim Friday night, the Kings started the first 20 minutes against the Nashville Predators with a lot of urgency. The best players were playing their best hockey, Kopitar with the period’s lone goal off of yet another screaming wrister from the right circle 7:53 into the game. Kopitar had two other shots on goal while Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty had two shots each.

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Then the ice tilted towards the Kings’ net in the second period with the Predators outshooting the Kings 9-8. After the Kings’ blue line and goaltender Jonathan Bernier stood fast against the Nashville onslaught, Martin Erat finally got the Preds on the board with a power play score midway in the period.

Kings’ defenseman Matt Greene insisted fatigue or the lack of intensity had nothing to do with this period.

“I didn’t think we had a good second period,” Greene said. “That’s all it was. We were in our zone for a while. We regrouped in here and wanted to get better in the third.”

After Penner’s score, he and Lewis had another breakaway chance that was saved by Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. But the Kings did make Nashville pay for their mistakes throughout the period - Jeff Carter swiping the puck from Jordin Tootoo, dishing it to Dwight King for the 3-1 lead. Even Kyle Clifford showed moves heretofore nonexistent with his goal, also like Penner his first since Feb. 7.

It’s times like these that show what makes up a team. After the hole the Kings dug for themselves with some horrendous games, the Kings cannot afford to slip up. Winning four in a row and eight of their last 11 games show they are playing with urgency.

But looking at their lull in the second period, it made me wonder if this prolonged heightened intensity they are playing with is wearing them down, where one mistake could cost them the playoffs.

“This is what is fun,” Greene said. “It’s playing that complete 60 [minutes], not letting up. This is the fun part of the year.”

Lewis also brushes this suggestion off his shoulder.

“It’s not too tough because we’re fighting for our lives here. Every game everyone is going, and we have to do it for a full 60.”

With the San Jose Sharks defeat the Detroit Red Wings in overtime, both the Sharks and Kings jump up a spot: the Sharks now in eighth place and the Kings ninth in the Western Conference both with 82 points. The idle Phoenix Coyotes sit a point behind while the Calgary Flames have 80 points in 11th place.

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“It’s time where you separate the men from the boys,” Penner noted. By exploding for three goals in the third period, the Kings are starting to do that, to atone for all of their sins during the season. Hopefully it won’t be too late. Hopefully some of this March Madness will continue on into April and beyond.

LA Clippers defeat Houston Rockets 95-91.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC defeat Chivas USA 1-0.

Detroit Pistons at LA Clippers. 12:30 p.m. FS Prime Ticket, AM 980 KFWB.
Utah Jazz at LA Lakers. 6:30 p.m. FSWest, AM 710 KSPN.
Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks. 5:00 p.m. FS Prime Ticket, AM 830 KLAA.
DC United at LA Galaxy. 4:00 p.m. KDOC.