In a span of just six days, the Los Angeles Kings have lost two of their most potent offensive threats. If Anze Kopitar's broken right ankle hasn't put a severe crimp in their playoff hopes, nothing will.
The Kings' leading scorer left Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche with 4:21 left in the second period after a seemingly innocent check by defenceman Ryan O'Byrne against the left boards in the Colorado zone that caused him to fall backward and snap the ankle.
Kopitar lay on the ice for several moments before he was helped off by teammate Michal Handzus and a trainer, and was hunched over in severe pain when he went to the dressing room. The Kings refused to be specific, calling it a lower-body injury, but coach Terry Murray revealed the severity of it while addressing reporters.
"It's a broken ankle. He'll be out a minimum of six weeks," Murray said. "He's your top player, your top forward, so there's quite a hole that's going to be there now with him out of the lineup for this length of time. But you know what? I've been through these kinds of things before, with top guys being out with injuries, and it's an opportunity for other guys to step up."
The first part of this double-whammy came Monday night, when right wing Justin Williams dislocated his shoulder in a 2-1 shootout win against Calgary.
"Injuries happen during the year, and you don't want to have your best player go down," captain Dustin Brown said. "But if that's the case, we need to shoulder the responsibility collectively and find a way to keep going as a team — because no other team is going to feel sorry for us. Maybe with this adversity, we'll find out what we're made of."
Kopitar, who appeared in his second all-star game last month, played in a club-record 330 consecutive games — breaking the previous mark of 324 set by Marcel Dionne on March 15 at Nashville.
At least the Kings have a solid defence to compensate for their suddenly diminished offensive attack. They have allowed an average of 2.2 goals over their last 28 games, a stretch in which they've gone 19-4-5 and have given up more than three goals only three times.
"Not one guy can replace a guy like Kopitar, both offensively and defensively," said forward Ryan Smyth, who picked up his teammates with a goal and an assist in the third period. "Kopi plays a lot of minutes and in a lot of situations. So everybody has to collectively come together and regroup, and everybody has got to fill a role. But our defence is probably the staple of our game, and has been since Terry got here."
Handzus connected on a power play for Los Angeles, Trevor Lewis and Willie Mitchell also scored, and Jonathan Quick made 20 saves to help the Kings tighten their grip on a playoff spot and complete their first four-game season sweep of the Colorado-Quebec Nordiques franchise. Brown had two assists.
Quick was in net for all four games against Colorado — including a 5-0 victory on Dec. 21 that ended the Avalanche's season-best six-game win streak — and is 7-0 lifetime against them.
"I think that their goaltender deserves a lot of credit. He played very well," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "We had some real good opportunities, and he did a good job of smothering second and third opportunities. I told the guys again that I was very pleased with their effort for the most part. The guys were ready to play this afternoon."
Los Angeles was leading 2-0 at the time of Kopitar's injury. Milan Hejduk got Colorado on the board with 1:36 left in the second, giving him 11 straight 20-goal seasons to tie Joe Sakic's franchise record. Smyth restored the Kings' two-goal margin at 1:36 of the third with his 21st goal but only his second in 25 games. It came on a wraparound after he spun away from defenceman Jonas Holos.
Smyth then set up Lewis' goal with 9:55 remaining after a turnover by the Avalanche in the neutral zone.
"I liked our third period," Murray said. "You lose your top player like that with an injury, and nobody knows what extent of it is [at the time], but the attitude going into the third was good. We played the right way, we kept the game simple and ended up getting a couple of goals. So I was very happy with the way the game ended."