LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings were desperate for a spark, staring down their second shutout loss to the rival Anaheim Ducks in less than a week and third of the season, just 20 minutes away from ceding more ground in their desperate chase for a wild card in the Western Conference.
The return of goalie Jonathan Quick from a groin injury hadn't provided it, nor had Jeff Carter's first fight since joining Los Angeles. A simple tap-in goal, however, gave the Kings the offensive turnaround they were desperate for.
Tyler Toffoli scored two of Los Angeles' four third-period goals and Quick made 32 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Ducks on Saturday.
"I think the game kind of led to the third," said Quick, who missed 59 games after injuring the groin in the first period of the season opener Oct. 12 against San Jose. "I thought we were playing great leading up to it. We were creating chances, and played hard, heavy. I think if we don't play like that in the first two periods, then we don't get four in the third, so it was kind of, we got rewarded for our work over 60 minutes."
Quick's return was complemented by a timely end to Los Angeles' recent offensive power outage.
Toffoli scored 3:37 into the third period, when Tanner Pearson's low-angle shot led to a rebound that was calmly tucked in to end a 130-minute goal drought for the Kings in the fierce Southern California fracas.
Having been held scoreless in 10 of the previous 11 periods against the Ducks this season, the Kings then quickly built off the emotional release.
Toffoli added his 12th goal of the season off a spectacular pass from Carter that somehow stayed under Cam Fowler's feet as the Ducks defenceman slid face-down on the ice trying to deflect the puck, giving Los Angeles the 2-1 lead with 12:12 remaining.
Dustin Brown deflected in Kevin Gravel's shot from just inside the blue line 17 seconds later, giving the Kings as many goals in 4:28 as they had scored in their previous three games combined.
Finally, Carter scored an empty-net goal, securing a much-needed two points after losing four of their previous five games.
Pearson and captain Anze Kopitar each had two assists, and coach Darryl Sutter was pleased to see his biggest stars deliver.
"It's the only way we're going to make the playoffs," said Sutter, who won his 216th game to pass Andy Murray for most in Kings' history. "Those guys held scoreless or shut down or outplayed by the other team's top guys, we won't make the playoffs. That's real. Tonight's game, if you look at the last three games we've played at home, what's the difference? Going into the third, scored a big goal, that's it."
Andrew Cogliano scored, and Jonathan Bernier made 29 saves for Anaheim. They head into the bye week alternating wins and losses over their last nine games.
Quick mostly looked sharp in his return, even doing the splits well out in front of his crease to deny Nick Ritchie on a power play in the first period, but could not prevent the Ducks' lone goal.
Cogliano was on the receiving end of a quick give-and-go from Ryan Kesler, potting his 14th goal of the season late in the first. Jakob Silfverberg intercepted the puck at centre ice and sparked a ruthless rush the other way, picking up his 38th point of his breakout campaign.
But the Ducks could not build on that lead, issues compounded by their languishing power play. They went 1 for 32 in February, including 0 for 4 against the Kings.
"We were pretty good for 40 minutes," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We competed hard. We didn't do enough with the puck to finish the game out on the road."
Patrick Eaves made his debut for the Ducks after being acquired from Dallas for a conditional second-round draft pick Friday. Slotted on a line with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell, Eaves played 16:09.
The fourth edition of the Freeway Faceoff this season was typically physical and ill-tempered, with a 10-man dog pile midway through the second period leading to a fight between Ducks centre Nate Thompson and Kings defenceman Brayden McNabb. Carter, who leads the Kings with 30 goals, and Kesler traded blows later in the period, a right hand by Kesler momentarily sending Carter down to a knee.
Said Sutter: "If it was badminton I'd tell Jeff not to fight Kesler, but in hockey a fight happens every once in a while."
NOTES: Kings RW Marian Gaborik was a healthy scratch for just the second time this season. Gaborik had not recorded a point in his previous nine games. ... In addition to getting Quick back, the Kings activated Jordan Nolan off injured reserve. Nolan missed nine games with a lower-body injury. ... The Ducks sent D Brandon Montour back down to their AHL affiliate in San Diego. Montour, who made his NHL debut Dec. 29, had a goal and an assist in 12 games with the big club.
Ducks: Host Toronto on March 3.
Kings: Visit Minnesota on Monday.