WINNIPEG, Canada -- Excitement and relief were the twin emotions hitting Kings center Mike Richards after he scored a big second-period goal, which turned out to be the game winner in a 3-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets.
Goals and consistency have been hard to come by for Richards in what has been a long and difficult season. He grew up in Kenora, Ontario, about 130 miles away from MTS Center and arranged for about 24 tickets for family and friends Thursday night.
This time, he didn't try to create a play after jumping on a turnover in the neutral zone, letting instinct take over, ripping a shot past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec from the left circle. That made it 2-1 at 16:15 of the second period and helped the Kings win their sixth consecutive game, tying a season high.
“I've never scored here and probably haven't played the best games here … we were passing the whole time and it didn't seem to work,” said Richards, who scored his ninth goal of the season. “So I decided to close my eyes and rip it.”
The other Kings goals came from captain Dustin Brown (12th of the season) at 12:45 of the second period and defenseman Alec Martinez scored an insurance goal (his sixth) on the power play late in the third period. Brown's goal came 42 seconds after the Jets had taken a 1-0 lead.
The game marked the Kings' debut of forward Marian Gaborik, who was acquired in a trade-deadline deal with Columbus on Wednesday in exchange for forward Matt Frattin and conditional draft picks. Gaborik played on a line with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams and saw action on the No. 1 power-play unit.
“It was a huge win, obviously, glad to be part of it,” said Gaborik, who had three shots on goal and was a minus-one. “At times, I was fighting it a little bit, but overall, it felt pretty good. It's going to get better and better.”
The early reviews from his teammates were laudatory. Brown compared Gaborik's arrival to the late-season acquisition of Jeff Carter two years ago, also from the Blue Jackets.
“It's not necessarily that they're going to score all the goals,” Brown said. “But other teams have to worry about those guys and other guys can find mismatches — whether it's playing against fifth or six D [defensemen] or third lines.
“When you have guys like Gabby and Carts on two different lines, it's like having Kopi and Rick [Richards], two centermen. You have to pick your poison. It makes it harder for teams to distribute their talent to shut those guys down.”
The arrival of Gaborik will undoubtedly be a big boost for Richards, in the sense that he will be able to stay on Carter's line, where they have an undeniable chemistry. Richards had scored just once in 36 games, and now he has two goals in the last three games, showing improvement coming out of the Olympic break.
“They're used to playing with each other kind of thing,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “I think now that Mike is regenerated and back with …”
Williams, from a distance, heard Doughty and was amused, chiming in, “Regenerated?”
Said Doughty: “I don't know where I got that word from. Now that he [Richards] is back with Carts, he's back to himself. I think he's happy again and he's been playing well the last few games after the Olympics.”
Gaborik, meanwhile, was complimentary of the Kings' defense corps in his first game and Doughty returned the praise.
“He's going to be a big help to our team on the power play,” Doughty said. “Offensively, he's so fast. He's got an unbelievable shot. Now Kopi has a left winger that is a total threat at all times.
“When you put two really good forwards like Williams and Gaborik with Kopi, they're going to be a dominant line. He played in a defensive system in Minnesota back in the day, so he knows exactly how to do it here too.”