LOS ANGELES (AP) - Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter had plenty of time to work on his shooting and stick handling as he recovered from surgery to repair a cut tendon in his ankle that sidelined him for 55 games.
Carter is making up for lost time with his scoring prowess since returning for the stretch run, leading the Kings in a contested playoff chase.
Carter completed a hat trick by scoring with 4:25 left and the Kings beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 on Thursday night.
“Carter had a hell of a game,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “He’s a world-class player.”
Carter scored for the third consecutive game, helping the Kings open a two-point lead over the Anaheim Ducks for third place in the Pacific Division before the Freeway Faceoff rivals meet Friday night in Anaheim.
Carter capped his sixth career hat trick on a wrist shot from the left dot to give the Kings the lead at 15:35 of the third period. It was Carter’s 13th goal in 17 games since returning from injury, and his 59th multi-goal game in his 900th career appearance.
“It’s just his presence in a lot of areas checks a lot of boxes, but he’s a production guy,” Kings coach John Stevens said. “He ends up in the scoring areas, he goes to the tough areas. He scores goals that other guys can’t.”
Carter has five goals and two assists during a three-game point streak.
Jack Campbell made 20 saves for his second career win, and the Kings won consecutive games for the first time since winning three in a row Feb. 17-20. Anze Kopitar added an empty-net goal with 1.7 seconds remaining, and Tyler Toffoli had two assists.
Kevin Connauton scored for the second straight game and Max Domi had a goal and an assist for the Coyotes, who had won two straight over the Kings. Darcy Kuemper made 31 saves.
Despite being in the mix to finish with the worst record in the NHL, Arizona has been playing as well as any team in hockey over the last two months. The Coyotes, who were 14-7-1 in their previous 22 games and coming off back-to-back wins over Stanley Cup contenders Vegas and Tampa Bay, continued that strong form.
However, they never had an answer for Carter.
“I think that can go in the memory bank and find ways to win that next year,” Domi said. “It’s a good test for us, but a really good learning experience, too.”
Los Angeles made it 2-all when Carter redirected Dion Phaneuf’s shot from the blue line in for a power-play goal at 11:49 of the second period, canceling out Domi’s backhand for his ninth goal at 5:14.
Connauton put the Coyotes ahead 1-0 at 12:26 in the first period with his third goal in two games, but Carter tied it up at 1 with 27.5 seconds remaining by tipping Derek Forbort’s shot past Kuemper for his 350th career goal.
“They’re all playoff games for us now,” Carter said. “One of my roles on this team is to provide offense, so if I can keep putting them in the net that’s a good thing.”
NOTES: Kopitar set a new career-high with his 35th goal. . Campbell improved to 2-0-2 as Jonathan Quick’s backup since the Kings traded Kuemper to the Coyotes on Feb. 21. .. Coyotes rookie defenseman Trevor Murphy picked up his first assist on Domi’s goal. It was Murphy’s second point in four career games. … Clayton Keller’s 10-game point streak ended.
Coyotes: Host the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.
Kings: Visit the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.
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