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Kings end long and winding road trip with 3-2 win over Ducks

February 23, 2011 |  9:34 pm

Playing the last leg of a 10-game road odyssey that could have broken them, the Kings on Wednesday reasserted themselves into the West playoff picture with a 3-2 victory over the Ducks that lifted them into sixth place in the mad playoff scramble.

A slick backhand backpass by Justin Williams set up light-scoring defenseman Willie Mitchell in the left circle for a slap shot that eluded a screened Curtis McElhinney at 6:45 of the third period and gave the Kings a 6-1-3 record in their season-long stretch of 10 straight games away from Staples Center. On Thursday they return home for the first time since Jan. 26 and will face the Minnesota Wild.

The Ducks played one of the best defensive games they've mustered in a while, banding together in front of McElhinney to help the struggling goalie as he tries to replace the still-ailing Jonas Hiller.

However, McElhinney left two rebounds the Kings turned into goals and the Ducks had no margin for error since they were also without their two top centers. Saku Koivu missed the game because of a sore groin and Ryan Getzlaf was with his wife following the birth of the couple’s son, Ryder James Getzlaf, Wednesday afternoon.

Goaltender Ray Emery, recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League Wednesday morning, was in uniform as McElhinney’s backup.

The Kings are tied with Minnesota, Nashville and Calgary with 70 points each. The first tiebreaker is fewest games, and the Kings, Minnesota and Nashville have each played 60. In a rule change instituted before this season the next tiebreaker is the number of wins minus the number of shootout victories, and under that tiebreaker Minnesota stays fifth with 32 wins minus two shootout victories. The Kings have 33 wins minus seven shootout wins (26), but Nashville has 31 wins minus six shootout wins (25).

The Ducks tried to guard the struggling McElhinney as well as they could and they were solid defensively in the early going. But he left two soft rebounds that the Kings pounced on in building a 2-1 lead in the first 20 minutes.

The Kings scored first, at 12:13. Jack Johnson controlled the puck and passed to Jarret Stoll at the half boards. He returned the puck to Johnson, who blasted a 50-foot shot. The rebound popped up in the air and was batted in by Ryan Smyth, displaying great hand-eye coordination as he swatted the puck out of mid-air.

As has become their habit, the Kings gave up a goal soon after scoring. Dan Sexton dug out the puck behind the net and passed back to the point to Toni Lydman, who shot through a screen created by Kings defenseman Matt Greene and Ducks forward Brandon McMillan. Teemu Selanne got enough of it to deflect it past Quick at 13:32 for his 626th career goal, moving him up to 14th on the NHL’s career goalscoring list.
The Kings regained the lead at 17:09. Williams carried the puck up the right side and took a shot that struck McElhinney in the chest.

Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky fell and couldn’t clear the rebound, which was poked in by Anze Kopitar behind a helpless McElhinney.

The Ducks pulled even at 10:05 of the second period. Corey Perry was on his knees behind the net when he got the puck to Bobby Ryan in the right-wing corner. Ryan sent the puck up the boards to defenseman Luca Sbisa, who faked once before unleashing a shot. Perry, who had gone to the net, deflected it past an apparently screened Jonathan Quick for his 31st goal of the season.

McElhinney protected that lead with a fine pad save with 46.5 seconds left in the period. Wayne Simmonds had gotten in alone behind the Ducks’ defense and took a backhander that McElhinney stopped with his right leg. The puck sat loose in front but McElhinney used his stick to gather it beneath himself and get a stoppage.

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-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Kings forward Kyle Clifford, right, lands a punch on Ducks forward Kyle Chipchura during the first period of the Kings' 3-2 victory Wednesday. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times