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LOS ANGELES - Inside the Staples Center, John Madden was centering the second line, at times playing the power play. Cody Almond was centering the third line, at times getting penalty-kill duty. Eric Nystrom moved from wing to center.
Guys are playing unfamiliar roles, but such is life right now for the Wild, which is playing for an extended period without No. 1 center Mikko Koivu and, for the time being, No. 2 center Kyle Brodziak, who's not on the road trip because of illness.
The shorthanded Wild gave it one heck of a try Thursday night, but the big, fast and healthy Los Angeles Kings, wearing their throwback purples, triumphed for a big 4-2 victory to leapfrog Minnesota in the standings.
"Guys played hard all the way to the end," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "That was a pretty intense, pretty physical game. I'm proud of the way the guys battled. ... We just came up a little short.
"It would have been an easy game to throw the towel in on, but I'm real happy the way they played the game. We weren't perfect by any means, but we tried."
The Kings, who hadn't played at home since Jan. 26 and were coming off a 6-1-3 road trip, moved to fifth in the West, while Minnesota dropped to sixth, sitting atop four other teams all tied with 70 points. The Wild visits Anaheim tonight.
Wayne Simmonds scored two goals for the Kings and Drew Doughty scored the winner 5:39 into the third. Nystrom and Brent Burns scored for Minnesota as Niklas Backstrom, who made 26 saves, allowed more than two goals for only the fifth time in the past 18 games.
The last goal came with Minnesota on its second power play in the waning minutes with the game on the line. With 1:27 left, Richards pulled Backstrom for an extra attacker and 6-on-4 advantage.
Matt Cullen told his wingers he'd tie up center Michal Handzus on the draw. Cullen did, causing a scrum. But the puck went the wrong way ... right to Anze Kopitar, who fired 150 feet dead-center of the empty net.
The complete opposite happened with 4 1/2 seconds left in the second period when Cullen tied up Jarret Stoll, and while fallen on the ice, kicked the puck to Brent Burns for the tying goal.
But that happened in the left circle. This happened in the right, which is where the Wild really missed Brodziak, the Wild's lone righthanded drawman. In the third period, the Kings was 13 of 17 faceoffs. Madden lost 12 of 17 in the game, while Nystrom and Almond won 4 of 12.
The Wild also desperately missed Koivu and Brodziak in the defensive zone, where the gigantic Kings, who pursue pucks and battle for everything, had their way at times.
"[Cullen and Madden] had to push a little bit harder down low in D-zone coverage," Richards said.
The Kings, who have the fourth-best home penalty kill in the NHL, aggressively killed those last two Wild power plays in the final 7:30 and four in the game.
"Our power play wasn't as good as it needed to be in the big moments," Cullen said. "It wasn't there tonight. We didn't execute the way we needed to, especially coming up the ice."
The Kings did coming up the ice on the winner.
Early in the third, the Kings forced a turnover and exploded out of the zone with speed. Still, all things were covered until Doughty, the Kings' hotshot defenseman, lost Madden and buried Dustin Brown's pass from the top of the right circle.
"I got kind of a late jump coming out of the zone," Madden said. "One of their defensemen bumped me and knocked me off balance. So my first couple steps were a little behind Doughty. I knew he was there. I just couldn't catch up to him in time. I thought I had my stick in the right spot. But he quickly snapped it.
"Good play by their part and a missed assignment by me."
But it was especially a "good play."
"That's something you work at hard all year long where you get that drive, drive, drive attitude," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "Stoll drives through the net, backs off the defenseman, Brown comes in late and finds Doughty and executes the play the right way."
With the Wild trailing 1-0 after a one-sided opening period for the Kings, Nystrom tied the score when he fought through defenseman Willie Mitchell and defensive stalwart center Michal Handzus, then lunged forward to poke the puck like a pool ball.
The puck slid underneath Jonathan Bernier for Nystrom's second goal in four games after scoring one in his first 57.
But the Kings took a 2-1 lead on Simmond's pure determination. With the Wild having momentum until one shift earlier, Simmonds hopped the boards and fought through Burns' checking. He dropped the puck for Kopitar on the cycle, cut to the slot, lost Burns, received the pass back from Kopitar and whistled it by Backstrom.
The goal happened at the 10:18. The rest of the period, remarkably, belonged to the Wild.
The team, playing shorthanded, responded impressively by picking up its play, intensity and physicality. Cal Clutterbuck had nine hits in the game, Martin Havlat eight shots.
Minnesota buzzed the Kings' net over and over, but Bernier preserved the lead until a late Doughty interference minor with 10 seconds left led to Burns' tying goal, his 15th to tie his career high and own team record for goals by a defenseman.
It was Burns' first goal since Jan. 22, snapping a 12-game goal drought. The Kings, who had given up 10 power-play goals at home all year, killed 22 in a row at that point.
Still, Cullen felt there were spurts in the game when the Wild played a hard-nosed forechecking, fast style, but "we didn't do it enough."
Now, the Wild heads to Anaheim in a huge game.
"It's the biggest game right now getting two points tomorrow," said Madden.
|Chicago Cubs - LP: E. Jackson||2||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - WP: V. Mazzaro||4|
|Baltimore||6||Top 9th Inning|
|Cleveland||12||Bottom 6th Inning|
|Minnesota||5||Bottom 5th Inning|
|LA Angels||3||Bottom 7th Inning|
|Boston||3||1st OT 13:30|
|San Jose||9:30 PM|