LAS VEGAS (AP) — In the heat of a tight playoff race, the Los Angeles Kings turned to a little-known goaltender with one NHL start under his belt.
Boy, did Jack Campbell ever come through.
Campbell made 41 saves, Anze Kopitar scored his 27th goal and Los Angeles defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 on Tuesday night.
“It’s always great to win, and it definitely feels great to do it with this group. It just means a lot that it was a big two points,” Campbell said. “It was a little bit more than another game. I wanted to prove to everybody, but most importantly my teammates, that they can count on me. This was probably the biggest game I’ve played in.”
It was the Kings’ second victory over Vegas in two nights. The expansion Golden Knights dropped into a tie with Nashville for the top spot in the Western Conference.
The 26-year-old Campbell was making his first NHL start since the 2013-14 season, when he played for the Dallas Stars. He made one appearance for Los Angeles last season and got the nod Tuesday over starter Jonathan Quick, who beat Vegas on Monday.
“I remember the day when he came here,” Kings coach John Stevens said. “His game was not in very good shape. He had been in the East Coast League, and all he wanted to do was work and get better. Terrific year in the minors and became a leader down there. Coming into this game is a tough spot. It’s as tough a spot as there is. I thought Jack was really solid tonight and I couldn’t be any happier for the kid.”
Kyle Clifford, Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter also scored for the Kings, who rank second in the league with 20 road wins. Tampa Bay has 22.
Maxime Lagace stopped 26 shots for the Golden Knights in his first start since Dec. 9, when he won at Dallas. William Karlsson scored the Vegas goal.
Vegas is 0-2 since Monday’s trade deadline, when the Golden Knights added slick-skating forward Tomas Tatar and big-bodied Ryan Reaves to the lineup. Reaves played in both games against Los Angeles, while Tatar made his debut Tuesday.
Reaves made his presence felt for a team with the third-fewest penalty minutes in the league. He delivered several big hits, including two in the third period that landed him in the penalty box. He took issue with those calls.
“Can’t make a call on a reaction on a bench or a big noise, that’s not how this league works,” said the 6-foot-1, 225-pound winger, who arrived from Pittsburgh in a three-team trade. “I thought those were panic calls. (Drew) Doughty throws his head back like he got shot — it’s his shoulder pad that hits his chin. Two bad calls in a critical time of the game. It’s hockey. I play hard. It’s what’s kept me in this league. I’m not going to apologize for any one of those penalties. They did cost us the game, but that’s my style of play. And that’s going to continue against every team we play.”
In what has become a familiar sequence for the Golden Knights’ top line, Reilly Smith fed Jonathan Marchessault, who fed Karlsson, who gave Vegas a 1-0 lead 5:27 into the game.
Karlsson got his 34th goal of the season, while Marchessault and Smith picked up their 41st and 37th assists, respectively.
But shortly thereafter, Vegas center Ryan Carpenter committed a costly turnover with a terrible pass in the offensive zone, where Clifford took advantage and beat Lagace to tie it. Midway through the second period, Toffoli skated past Smith and took the puck with him, then beat Lagace to give the Kings a 2-1 advantage.
“The mistakes were self-inflicted,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “We made some bad mistakes in the neutral zone and turned the puck over and they capitalized. We had some chances. We created some chances. We just didn’t play hard enough. We didn’t compete hard enough in the blue paint.”
Kopitar extended the margin to 3-1 when he skated by Vegas defenseman Luca Sbisa and drew Lagace out of the net before swiftly moving to the side and putting the puck in.
Carter finished the scoring on a power-play goal with less than two minutes remaining.
“We talked as a team before the game and said if we want to get in the playoffs,” Stevens said, “it’s about playing better this time of year, getting better every night, and it was good to see we did that.”
NOTES: Campbell and Lagace were teammates in the minors with the Texas Stars and Idaho Steelheads. … After 11 consecutive starts, No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was given the night off for Vegas after losing in Los Angeles on Monday. … The crowd of 18,328 was the second-largest for a Golden Knights home game. … Kopitar has points in each of the last three games. … Vegas, which had scored on the power play in 14 of its last 17 games, was 0 for 4 with the man advantage. … The Golden Knights dropped to 14-7 following a loss.
Kings: Host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
Golden Knights: Host the Ottawa Senators on Friday.