The respirator has been unplugged and the last rites administered. But the Kings’ postseason hopes aren’t dead just yet.
Even with Friday’s 2-0 win over to the Vancouver Canucks, their road to the playoffs remains a painfully narrow one. With the St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames both clinching postseason berths Friday, only the Nashville Predators remain within reach of the Kings.
And even they aren’t that close.
The Kings trail Nashville by eight points with five games — worth a maximum of 10 points — to play. If they win all five and Nashville loses its final five, the Kings go to the playoffs. If the teams finish even in points, the Kings move on based on the NHL tiebreaker: more regulation and overtime wins.
However any combination of Nashville wins and Kings losses that total two will send the Predators to the postseason.
“I said it from day one, after the first period of the first game when our goalie went down, that we were going to just have to try to stay in the race,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “That’s all we can do.”
And as long as they’re in the race, the Kings appear determined to make things interesting.
“We’re not going to give up,” said Jarome Iginla, whose power-play goal midway through the second period proved to be the game-winner. “We’ve got to make sure that we do our part. In one week things can happen. Teams can go cold. It happens.
“We’ve just got to focus on ourselves. So nobody’s quitting.”
Instead they’re excelling, with Friday’s win giving them consecutive victories for only the second time since the first week of February and giving them consecutive wins on the road for the first time since January.
The Kings went ahead to stay in the second period on another milestone goal by Iginla, who redirected a hard Alec Martinez shot from the left faceoff circle around Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller for the 625th goal of his career, tying Joe Sakic for 15th on the all-time NHL list.
“That’s one that’s definitely very special to me,” Iginla said of the goal, his second game-winner in three nights.
Tyler Toffoli doubled the lead at the end of a 3-on-2 breakaway four minutes later. Jake Muzzin started the play, digging the puck out along the boards in the Kings end, then hitting Toffoli near the blue line.
Toffoli did the rest, skating deep into the Canucks’ zone, then waiting for defenseman Luca Sbisa to go to the ice inside the right circle before firing the puck over him and off the crossbar for his 15th goal of the season.
The two goals were welcome support for Jonathan Quick, the goalie who went down in that first game with a groin injury that kept him out four months. He made a season-high 35 saves Friday — 14 in the decisive second period —to post his second shutout and snap a personal three-game losing streak.
In those three losses, the team backed Quick with only one goal.
Now the Kings return to Staples Center for four games, three against teams that have already clinched playoff berths, before finishing the regular season against the division-leading Ducks in Anaheim. Nashville plays three of its final five on the road, but two of those are against Dallas and Winnipeg, teams that have already been eliminated from postseason contention
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11
Published at Sat, 01 Apr 2017 05:35:00 +0000
Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill put some distance between himself and his spring of discontent Friday night, while Angels right-hander Garrett Richards put the finishing touches on his spring time of renewal.
Hill allowed four hits in 3 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-1 exhibition victory at Angel Stadium, striking out two and walking one, a marked contrast from the 8.03 earned-run average he posted in five Cactus League starts, when he walked 14 and struck out 13 in 12 1/3 innings.
Hill said he was not particularly worried about his spring numbers. After all, he posted an 11.25 ERA last spring, then a 2.12 ERA during the season. Still, he was pleased with his performance Friday.
“Everything is going in the right direction,” he said. “Today was a good outing, a good way to finish up spring training.”
He said his curve and slider were the sharpest they had been all spring.
“It was pretty weak contact throughout the game,” he said. “I think that’s an indication of how the ball is coming out of your hand.”
Richards allowed one run and two hits in four innings, striking out three and walking one in a 57-pitch tuneup for his regular-season debut Wednesday in Oakland.
His only blemish was a 1-and-1 slider that Justin Turner lined over the left-field wall in the fourth for a solo home run, giving the Dodgers third baseman, who is batting .385, a team-leading four homers and 16 runs batted in for the spring.
That Richards will open the season in the rotation is something of a miracle considering his setback last spring. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in May and seemed headed for Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery.
Instead, he opted for stem-cell therapy, in which stem cells from his own bone marrow were injected into his elbow. A procedure that didn’t work for teammate Andrew Heaney worked for Richards, who pitched in the instructional league last fall and has looked strong this spring, his fastball clocked in the 96-mph range.
“I just feel very blessed, very thankful, for my teammates, who stood by me the whole time, for our training staff and doctors,” Richards said. “Everybody did such a great job with me, and I really appreciate it. It’s been a long time, and I’ve got to watch a lot of baseball, so it’s good to be out there competing again.”
Richards said any doubts about the integrity of his elbow were eliminated in the instructional league. He had to overcome a similar mental hurdle in the spring of 2015 when he returned from major left-knee surgery.
“I feel normal,” Richards said. “My body is finally feeling complete again. I’m over the knee, my arm feels good.”
Richards’ only concession to the elbow injury will be a pitch limit that the Angels hope to keep at around 100. A workhorse by nature, Richards threw 118 pitches and 115 pitches in consecutive April games last season.
“I don’t think we’ll see 110-pitch outings from Garrett, but there’s nothing to say he won’t pitch deep into games,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think the extremes with Garret are something we’ll avoid. Early in the season, we’re not going to see him throw 115 pitches. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The Dodgers were encouraged by Hill’s command Friday night, when he walked one of 16 batters after walking 14 of 58 batters in Arizona. He struck out Albert Pujols looking at a looping curve to end the first. He pitched out of a two-on, two-out jam in the second and retired the side in order in the third.
Left fielder Andrew Toles helped Hill with a running, lunging catch of Jefry Marte’s drive to the wall in the fourth, and Hill finished his night by striking out Danny Espinosa looking at a full-count curve.
The Dodgers scored twice off Angels reliever Kirby Yates in the eighth when Erick Mejia and Franklin Gutierrez led off with doubles and Cody Bellinger hit a two-out RBI double.
Angels right-hander Blake Parker may have solidified a bullpen spot when he struck out the side in the ninth, extending his consecutive strikeout string to 17 batters.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen struck out two of three in the fifth, and probable Angels closer Cam Bedrosian retired the side in order in the seventh, giving him nine scoreless innings this spring.
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna
Published at Sat, 01 Apr 2017 05:45:00 +0000