Vilardi, Kopitar provide third-period spark as Kings edge Canadiens

LOS ANGELES — In the final quarter of the NHL season, some games have a playoff feel, and others give off a preseason vibe, but the Kings’ 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at Arena featured a bit of both.

After plodding through much of the game with loads of stoppages, loose pucks, ticky-tack penalties and missed connections on passes, the two teams cranked up the intensity during the final 20 minutes. The result left the Kings in a points tie for first place in the Pacific Division.

Forward Gabe Vilardi led the way with a goal and a primary assist on winger Alex Iafallo’s goal before Anze Kopitar netted the game-winner. Pheonix Copley made 19 saves, and newly acquired defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov logged more than 15 minutes in his Kings debut.

Wingers Josh Anderson and Denis Gurianov scored for Montreal. Jake Allen made 30 saves to give the Canadiens a chance.

The Kings staved off a late push with confidence, thanks in part to denied zone entries, closed gaps and timely clears.

Montreal had cut its deficit in half when Gurianov skated into a far-side slap shot from above the left faceoff circle with 10:21 remaining, his third goal of a season split between two teams, Dallas and Montreal.

Beginning with 12:11 to play, the Kings finally turned the corner on the visitors with two goals in 63 seconds.

Their second goal came off the forecheck, when Quinton Byfield applied pressure below the goal line and then sent a centering pass through a check from behind to Kopitar in front for the goal, his 25th of 2022-23 and his ninth goal in his past eight games.

Their first was another bit of mastery in tight from Vilardi, who pivoted into a diving shot that he was able to roof from close range, extending his career-best season total 20 goals.

Montreal earned a power play early in the third, during which defenseman Mikey Anderson broke his stick and Copley had to make a key save on Mike Hoffman’s one-timer.

The Kings had two sterling opportunities to take their first lead of the night during the second period. First during it was winger Arthur Kaliyev, who had lit up Allen with a hard one-timer earlier in the same power play, failing to handle a pass that would have given him a no-doubt goal at the back post. Then, Kopitar feathered a picturesque pass across the crease for Byfield, but the chance went for naught.

At the 7:42 mark of the middle frame, the Kings pulled even with a goal from their third line. They controlled the puck off an offensive-zone faceoff. Vilardi alertly capitalized on the Montreal defense’s pursuit of the puck off the draw, making a precise play in tight to attract the defenders and then slip the puck to Iafallo for a tap-in goal, his ninth of the season. Iafallo scored just one goal in each of the past two months, but he got March off on the right foot.

The Kings’ newest acquisition, Gavrikov, impacted the game early, but not in the way he would have preferred. His first-period interference penalty led to Anderson’s power-play goal that put Montreal up 1-0, the lone goal of the period.

It was a borderline call on the penalty and an even tougher break on the goal. Center Nick Suzuki’s pass was deflected by winger Adrian Kempe, setting up a Mikey Anderson clearing attempt that Josh Anderson knocked out of the air and into the Kings’ net for an unassisted goal.

More to come on this story.

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