Gabe Vilardi’s goal lifts Kings past Panthers

LOS ANGELES –– In an exhilarating albeit dizzying 60 minutes of hockey that saw five lead changes, the Kings bested the Florida Panthers 5-4 at Crypto.com Arena Saturday.

Centers Rasmus Kupari and Blake Lizotte lit the lamp for the Kings, while wingers Trevor Moore and Viktor Arvidsson contributed a goal and an assist apiece. Winger Gabe Vilardi delivered the game-winner and center Anze Kopitar dished out two assists. Jonathan Quick turned away 32 shots.

Wingers Ryan Lomberg, Carter Verhaeghe and Eetu Luostarinen tallied for Florida, with Verhaeghe adding a second goal. Sergei Bobrovsky made 34 saves and nearly saw his club tie it from the bench and they sent a puck through an open crease in the final 90 seconds.

The game even ended with a bang, as in the dying seconds Florida struck the post and a melee ensued as multiple Kings converged on agitating winger Matthew Tkachuk at the goal mouth after he stuck his stick blade into Quick’s facemask.

An offensive-zone faceoff gave the Kings the final advantage of the night after an injury stoppage for Florida forward Anton Lundell. Kopitar won the draw back to defenseman Alex Edler, who let fly with a wrist shot that banged off the end boards. Vilardi scooped up the loose change and snuck the puck above Bobrovsky’s pad for his team-topping ninth goal of the season.

The Kings had nearly gained a 5-4 edge halfway through the closing stanza but winger Kevin Fiala’s point-blank shot hit the inside of the post.

Tkachuk picked defenseman Matt Roy’s pocket behind the net and sent the puck across the crease for Verhaeghe. Though he fanned on his initial attempt, he gathered and pushed the puck past Quick to knot the contest at four 5:04 into the frame.

After seeing the third tie of the game, the Kings had reclaimed the lead 2:40 into the third period when Lizotte darted in on a breakaway that was thwarted initially before he mopped up his own mess for a rebound goal. It was his second goal in as many games and fourth in his last seven outings.

The seesaw battle had already carried over into the final frame as just 78 seconds elapsed before Florida drew even at three. Luostarinen received the puck in open pastures at the left circle before gliding toward the net, deking and flipping the puck between the pad and blocker of Quick.

Florida appeared to cap a wild second period by scoring a go-ahead, power-play goal with 2:21 remaining, but it was waived off because incidental contact from Tkachuk interfered with Quick’s ability to make a save. The Panthers challenged unsuccessfully and were scored on just as the Kings’ four-on-four situation became a power play, with the Kings stealing the momentum to assume control for the first time Saturday.

Quick’s uncharacteristic bit of brilliant, ambitious puck handling –– he sent an outlet pass to Moore that stretched all the way to the opposite blue line –– sprung the Kings with numbers. Moore took a hit from Gustav Forsling as he centered the puck for Kopitar, who found a streaking Arvidsson for a tap-in at the right post.

As the game’s midpoint approached, the Kings tied the game, ceded a goal and evened the score anew in a span of 52 seconds.

First, after defenseman Drew Doughty’s shot attempt was deflected, Fiala recovered the puck below the goalline and then found a driving Kupari between the circles for his first goal of the campaign at the 9:33 mark.

It only took Florida 18 seconds to answer with a three-on-two rush that started below their own goalline. Verhaeghe swept a centering pass toward the goalmouth that put the Panthers back up when it deflected in off Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson’s skate.

The second line then found another equalizer, with Moore and Phillip Danault working down low to get the puck to Arvidsson near the blue line. He flung a puck that was deflected downward by Moore before bouncing off the ice then off and over Bobrovsky’s pad to tie the game.

The first half of the first period was definitively low-event hockey, with no goals, no penalties and just four shots between the two teams.

But in the 11th minute, a neutral-zone turnover by Kupari sent Lomberg toward the right faceoff circle with some speed and space, allowing him to lift a wrist shot to the far side past Quick and under the crossbar. His second goal of the season sent Florida to the first intermission with a one-goal lead.

The goal came during a delayed penalty to Kupari, who committed another penalty in the second period. He again dressed in place of the ill Quinton Byfield despite Kupari being sent down and then recalled from the minors. It was a double-minor penalty for high-sticking, with one infraction being negated by the goal and another by the Kings’ penalty kill.