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Frustrating Kings narrow Pacific divide against Flames

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Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter is a frontrunner for the Jack Adams Award this year as the NHL’s top coach, but don’t discount the guy guiding the bench beside him on Thursday night.

The Los Angeles Kings may be the biggest surprise this year, and bench boss Todd McLellan seems to have taken a page right out of Sutter’s playbook.

The Kings are a tight-checking, play-killing, opportunistic group with a great blend of veterans and young talent. They continued their upward climb in the Western Conference with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Flames.

It brought the Kings to within five points of the Pacific Division leaders (although the Flames have three games in hand). McLellan’s crew handed something to the Calgary Flames that they haven’t had since mid-January – a second consecutive loss.

Barely a minute into the second period, an unfortunate dump-and-change attempt by Johnny Gaudreau’s went south, and Alex Iafallo beat Jacob Markstrom on a feed from Adrian Kempe to give the Kings the opening goal.

“We weren’t very good tonight. Kind of slow,” Gaudreau said post-game. “A little bit of a bad turnover by me there in the second.

“It’s a hockey play. I think it was (Anze) Kopitar who knocked it out of mid-air. I should have stayed on the ice, obviously, tried to backcheck. But I kind of thought it was going toward the boards. They kind of transitioned quickly.

“But we found a way to battle back.”

Gaudreau scores early to avenge turnover

Gaudreau responded with a powerplay goal early in the third period to turn the momentum around. On that shift, he backchecked with authority, stole the puck and started the rush that led to his 31st goal of the season.

Defenceman Erik Gudbranson scored with a slippery wrister from the point to give the team its first lead but a couple of minutes later in the dying minutes of the third period, the Kings struck again.

Mikael Backlund was a half-step behind covering Victor Arvidsson and the veteran sniper launched a quick shot past Markstrom on the feed from fellow offseason addition Phillip Danault.

“They’re a desperate team trying to catch us in the standings. So you’ve got to be ready for their little pushback,” said Gaudreau, noting their 1-3-1 neutral zone system was smothering.

They’ll have to adapt to it for Monday’s rematch after a Saturday night game against the St. Louis Blues.

“It kind of aggravates teams at times. You find yourself turning the puck over a lot of the time,” Gaudreau said. “It’s difficult to get through.

“It wasn’t one of our best games. Everyone in our locker-room knows that. We come to work tomorrow ready to get better.”

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