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Kings’ Todd McLellan touts ‘character with the comeback’

The Kings will seek to maintain their perfect record on a road trip with imperfect circumstances, and against some of the luminaries in recent NHL history.

Thursday, they’ll take on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins with the Kings riding a wave of three one-goal victories.

They earned six out of six possible points thus far on the road despite playing three games in four nights with some heavy mileage. Most recently, they won on consecutive nights, first in overtime at Detroit and then with a shootout in Nashville.

They surmounted multipoint nights from an old friend, one-time Kings defenseman Olli Maatta, and a familiar foe, former St. Louis and Vegas mainstay David Perron, as well as a late-game gaffe in which a certain empty-net goal for the Kings became an equalizer for the Red Wings.

In Nashville, they killed all five of their penalties (including one in overtime) and scored twice in the final seven minutes to erase a two-goal deficit. Clutch shot-blocking from Kevin Fiala, Mikey Anderson and Anze Kopitar aided the efforts of goalie Cal Petersen in sending the game to a shootout, when Gabe Vilardi complemented his regulation goal with a shootout tally to seal the victory.

Coach Todd McLellan pointed out that the Kings had not only played an arduous schedule during the trip but had essentially been playing every second night for more than two weeks dating to the preseason.

“That’s taxing both mentally and physically. Character with the comeback,” McLellan said.

But as they’ve won games, they’ve lost bodies. Forward Alex Iafallo, who had recorded at least a point in each of his four appearances this season, sustained a lower-body injury against the Red Wings and was placed on injured reserve. Also in Detroit, defenseman Alex Edler was struck and bloodied by an errant puck during warmups, causing him to miss both ends of the back-to-back set.

But while they are short a pair of veterans, Vilardi has re-established himself as a full-time player and begun to cement himself as the offensive force the Kings envisioned when they drafted him five years ago.

Petersen has also begun to get his groove back, particularly late in the match in Nashville. A hit post and the aforementioned blocks helped, but Petersen sparkled as well.

“At the end of the night, he had to make outstanding saves in overtime and he was excellent in the shootout, and he’s won two games for us,” McLellan said. “So, for as much as it’s been talked about that he’s got to find his game, he’s won twice, and that’s a real good thing.”

Whether Petersen, Quick or both appear in the remaining two games of this swing, the Kings will need sound goaltending. They’ll face Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in Pittsburgh on Thursday, a trio of three-time Stanley Cup champions, and then Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals on Saturday to conclude the journey.

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Crosby ignited his campaign by spearheading two victories with a pair of three-point performances, earning him the NHL’s first star of the week honor, though most recently he was held scoreless in an overtime loss at Montreal. Forward Jeff Carter, a two-time Cup-winner with the Kings, has registered three points in three games after signing a two-year contract extension with the Penguins. Forward Teddy Bleuger, a strong penalty killer, could return from an upper-body injury, but should be considered doubtful, per Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

The Penguins are aging but not yet slowing down, and their management has taken notice. Not only did they commit to Carter but also to Malkin and Letang, as well as Bryan Rust, doling out multi-year extensions to all four 30-something players. Their general manager is Ron Hextall, the right-hand man of Dean Lombardi when the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in 2012.

Kings at Detroit

When: 4 p.m. Thursday

Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh

TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/IHeartRadio

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