LOS ANGELES — The Vancouver Canucks found a way to beat the Los Angeles Kings for the first time this season.
Their timing couldn’t have been better, with critical standings points up for grabs.
Radim Vrbata set up the tying goal by Nick Bonino in the second period and scored the go-ahead goal during a 5-on-3 power play in the third, leading the Canucks to a 4-1 victory on Saturday with 25 saves by Eddie Lack.
Vancouver earned the victory after losing the first three meetings to the Kings this season and seven of the previous eight overall.
The Stanley Cup champion Kings, who could have tied the Canucks for second place in the Pacific Division with a regulation win, have 11 games left on the schedule — including a rematch at Vancouver on Aril 6.
“It was huge,” Lack said. “The two years I’ve played for this team, we hadn’t won here. You can just take a look at the standings to know the importance of this game. If we would have lost, we would have been tied in points with them — and now we’re four points ahead. So I feel like our chances are very good.”
The Kings are in danger of becoming the eighth team in history to miss the playoffs a year after winning the Stanley Cup.
“It’s not a given that you get into the playoffs. You’ve got to work for it,” captain Dustin Brown said. “We’ve struggled at times this year, but our confidence and our belief hasn’t wavered. We’re still in control of our own destiny. We play a lot of these teams that we’re battling with for a playoff spot, and people expect us to be there. But we have to earn it.
Daniel Sedin and Bo Horvath scored unassisted empty-net goals in the final minute.
“The boys played so well in front of me and didn’t give up that many shots. So I felt like once I got the opportunity to shine a little bit, I had to step up,” Lack said. “I felt like I played awful in my last game, so I just wanted to bounce back and have a good one.”
Vrbata put the Canucks ahead 2-1 at 4:31 of the third with his 27th goal, playing the puck off the end boards after a long slap shot by defenceman Alex Edler and putting it past Jonathan Quick while he was out of position. Quick finished with 38 saves.
Vrbata’s goal came 26 seconds after Tyler Toffoli received a boarding major and game misconduct for cross-checking Alex Burrows into the boards from behind while they were in front of the Kings’ bench. There was about a minute left on Drew Doughty’s slashing penalty at the time.
“It was a hard game,” Brown said. “Both teams understood how big of a game it was. Having to get on a 5-on-3 penalty kill is not an easy thing to do, especially against the unit they have, and they got a big goal. That 5-on-3 ends up being the difference and we couldn’t find a way to climb back.”
Marian Gaborik opened the scoring with his 22nd goal, getting a pass from Doughty and using Edler as a screen before beating Lack to the glove side with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle. It came just 24 seconds into the second period and seven seconds after Dan Hamhuis got a roughing penalty.
“The bottom line is, we can’t win with one goal,” Gaborik said. “We had a lot of chances to put the game away, but we just didn’t capitalize. We’ve got to score more goals without sacrificing our defence.
So we need to play the right way — put some pucks on net and create some chances.”
Anze Kopitar earned his 600th point on Gaborik’s goal after winning a faceoff deep in the Vancouver zone against Bonino. But Bonino made up for it by scoring the tying goal at 14:54 of the second.
Kevin Bieksa started the play from his zone, flipping the puck across two lines and finding Vrbata standing at the Kings’ blue line along the right boards. Vrbata was about to get checked by Brayden McNabb then he flipped a pass into the low slot, where Bonino played the bouncing puck and put it over Quick’s left shoulder for his 13th goal.
Quick got slammed in the crease by Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin at 16:55 of the second period, after he made the save on a 55-foot wrist shot by Daniel Sedin and covered the puck while on his knees. Quick and Henrik Sedin both received roughing penalties following their impromptu wrestling match at the left of the net.
NOTES: Quick has 18 penalty minutes — two more than Gaborik and eight more than Kopitar. The 2012 playoff MVP had only 12 PIMs in his first seven NHL seasons combined. … The Canucks, who came in with the league’s third-best penalty-killing rate (85.7), had allowed five goals in 46 short-handed situations over their previous 17 games — including all seven on March 14 against Toronto. … Vancouver was 2 for 27 on the power play over their previous 12 games. … The Kings have allowed just four goals in 56 short-handed situations over their past 21 games.