LOS ANGELES (AP) - Even after three games and a cross-country flight in the previous five days, the Los Angeles Kings came out roaring at home with a three-goal first period against Winnipeg.
Coach Darryl Sutter’s team knows all about peaking for the postseason after its Stanley Cup title run two years ago, and the Kings are counting down the games until they can try it again.
Trevor Lewis and Tyler Toffoli also scored for the Kings, who haven’t lost since March 17. Marian Gaborik and Willie Mitchell had two assists apiece as Los Angeles took a big early lead and cruised to its 14th win in 17 games.
“I don’t think there is any coasting goes on, period,” Sutter said. “You’re just trying to refine parts of your game, very simple. You are trying to take care of your own business first. You’re not a playoff team until you clinch the playoff spot.”
The Kings are just a couple of wins away from clinching their fifth straight playoff trip and a first-round matchup with San Jose or Anaheim.
After 4½ weeks of outstanding play out of the Olympic break, they’re all but locked into third place in the Pacific Division. Los Angeles has won 13 of 16 since Sochi, with three one-goal losses between two lengthy winning streaks.
“We have a chance to finish very strong and prepare for the playoffs,” said Gaborik, who has eight points in his past nine games with Los Angeles. “This team works well in a system. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody is trusting each other. It’s like one big machine.”
And that machine steamrolled the Jets in the opening 20 minutes.
Matt Halischuk and Blake Wheeler scored in the third period for the Jets, who hadn’t visited Los Angeles since Jan. 3, 1996. Ondrej Pavelec gave up three goals in the first period before getting pulled, and Al Montoya stopped 12 shots in the final 40 minutes.
Winnipeg has lost four of six and 10 of 13, its playoff hopes dwindling to a faint prayer. The Jets trail eighth-place Phoenix in the Western Conference standings by nine points with seven games to go and three teams between them.
The erstwhile Atlanta Thrashers finally have appeared in every NHL road arena since their move to Manitoba in 2011, but they couldn’t keep up in the first period against their surging hosts.
“We got taught a real good lesson in the first period about being ready to play a hard game,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “We were just giving up so much ice and backing up. The last two periods, we were ready to play. There’s a learning lesson for some.”
The Kings went ahead just 2:42 in when a sharp-angled shot somehow got past Pavelec for Lewis‘ career-best sixth goal of the season. Lewis didn’t score in his first 38 games of the season, but the grinding forward has four goals in March.