LATE SURGE CRUCIAL IN KINGS VICTORY THREE GOALS IN THIRD PERIOD STOP BLUES KINGS 3, ST. LOUIS 1.
As the sound of NCAA Tournament games blared from the Kings' dressing-room television Saturday morning, the topic of a different March Madness came up, one that involves NHL scoreboard watching.
The Kings entered Saturday with a paper-thin margin for error in the Western Conference playoff race, just one point out of ninth place. But they claimed not to be keeping close tabs on their pursuers.
``I don't even have cable, so it's tough for me to watch games'' Sean Avery joked before the Kings defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-1 before a crowd of 18,118 at Staples Center. ``I don't even know who we're playing tonight. I just show up and worry about it then. It doesn't really matter at this point''
Mike Glumac's second-period power-play goal put the Blues up 1-0, but Avery and Michael Cammalleri both scored in the first five minutes of the third period and Eric Belanger added a goal with four minutes remaining.
The Kings outshot the Blues 18-3 in the third period and swept the season series for the first time since the 1974-75 season.
St. Louis, a team that entered with the third-fewest wins in the NHL, could have put a severe dent in the Kings' playoff hopes. The Kings came in with a one-point lead for eighth place in the conference.
Injuries continue to take their toll on the Kings, who added defenseman Tim Gleason (knee) to the wounded list but regained the services of Craig Conroy, their second-leading scorer.
Conroy's return figured to give the Kings a boost, particularly on their moribund power play, but the Kings failed on eight power-play chances until Cammalleri's power-play goal.
It's hyperbole to call any regular-season game a ``must-win'' game, but given the Kings' situation, with losses in four of their previous five games and with the Mighty Ducks poised to overtake them for eighth place, the Kings clearly needed the two points Saturday, if nothing else than to boost their confidence.
Still, as he looked at the standings Saturday morning, Conroy chose the half-glass-full approach, noting that the Kings were just three points behind fifth-place Colorado.
``We're not looking behind us, we're looking forward,'' Conroy said before the game. ``If we get a win tonight we can pass a couple teams. Do we have much breathing room? No.''
The Kings could have given themselves some significant breathing room in the first period, but came away empty after spending almost half of the first 14 minutes with the man advantage.
St. Louis' Bryce Salvador shot the puck over the glass with the Kings on the power play and 7:35 left remaining in the period, which gave the Kings a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:25.
It didn't mean much. The Kings got just two shots on goal on the two-man advantage, and for the period they had just four shots on goal during almost seven minutes of power-play time.
The only advantage is that the Blues didn't have time to generate much offense. They had only two shots on goal until a later power play, during which they generated two more shots.
The teams continued to trade power-play chances early in the second period, and the Blues failed on their own lengthy 5-on-3 advantage but finally netted a power-play goal with 8:24 left in the period.
Dean McAmmond brought the puck up the right side and fed a cross-ice pass to Glumac, who wound up and fired a one-timer that rose and beat Garon to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, St. Louis' Dennis Wideman rang a shot off the goal post.
Garon appeared more solid than in recent outings, but it didn't matter. Garon allowed at least four goals in four of his previous five starts, and there had been some thought that the Kings might turn to backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera, but coach Andy Murray stayed with Garon.
The offense didn't give Garon much help. The Kings had a chance to tie the game with a shorthanded goal when Belanger had a breakaway, but Patrick Lalime saved Belanger's backhand attempt.
Sean Avery, who scored the Kings' first goal, heads up ice early in the club's 3-1 victory vs. St. Louis.
Edna T. Simpson/Daily News