The Swedish rookie’s persistence was rewarded at a dramatic moment for his Los Angeles Kings.
Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie scored for the Capitals, who have lost three straight regulation games for the first time in their outstanding season. Grubauer stopped 18 shots, but Washington’s lead over Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division has dwindled to one point with 15 games to go.
“There’s always frustration,” said Justin Williams, the former longtime Kings forward. “You can’t whine and cry about it. We lost three in a row. Big deal. Now we have to pick it up and get the next one. Good news is there is usually a game the next day.”
Despite the result, Washington coach Barry Trotz praised his team’s overall performance and lamented a series of shots off Quick’s posts.
“There were a couple of things where we were a little bit unlucky,” Trotz said. “Goals aren’t coming. We’re going to have to score more than two goals. We’ve got to fight through it. We’ve got to get to the net. We’ve got to shoot.”
Vrana put the Capitals ahead on their first shot, converting a pass from Kevin Shattenkirk on a power play. The Kings evened it later in the first period on the second goal in two games by Gaborik, who has excelled lately on a line with Kopitar and newcomer Jarome Iginla.
Oshie put the Caps back ahead early in the second while following up a chance by Marcus Johansson. The American’s 26th goal matched his career high set last year in his debut season with Washington.
Kempe put the Kings ahead when he skated off the boards and spun his way into a clear shot that beat Phillip Grubauer through a screen. Kempe, the 20-year-old former first-round pick, was the closest thing to a blue-chip offensive prospect in the Kings‘ system, but he had only four assists to his credit since his call-up.
“I’ve had a lot of chances, and I should have probably scored before this game,” Kempe said. “But it was a good feeling when it finally went in.”
Marian Gaborik also scored and Jonathan Quick made 17 saves in a major victory for the Kings, who have won three of four while they fight to stay in the playoff race. Jeff Carter added an empty-net goal, and Los Angeles won back-to-back games for the first time since early February.
The Kings are in ninth place in the Western Conference, trailing St. Louis by three points. Kempe’s goal provided the reward for a tenacious effort by the Kings, whose defensive game plan was barely enough to beat high-flying Washington.
“(Kempe) has been really good for us,” said defenseman Alec Martinez, who had two assists. “He’s brought a lot of energy, a lot of speed. He’s a pretty even-keeled guy. Doesn’t get too high or too low, and that makes for a pretty good pro.”
NOTES: Alex Ovechkin played his 17th consecutive game without an even-strength goal. He has one point in eight games. … Williams had an assist, giving him points in the last three games he has played against the Kings. The goal-scorer known in LA as “Mr. Game 7” won the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Kings‘ second Stanley Cup championship run. … Grubauer got the start over Braden Holtby after the German backup goalie earned a 38-save shutout in Washington’s home game against the Kings earlier this season. … Los Angeles scratched regular D Brayden McNabb and inserted Kevin Gravel.
Capitals: At Ducks on Sunday.
Kings: Host Blues on Monday.
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