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L.A. Kings center hungry for more after helping team earn playoff berth

A penalty shot had been awarded and Anze Kopitar skated toward the Colorado Avalanche goal. He knew exactly what he was going to do:

Deke to the forehand, switch to the backhand, then deposit the puck between the legs of Avs goalie Craig Anderson.

Sure enough, the red light went on and the Los Angeles Kings defeated Colorado 5-3 last year in the annual Frozen Fury NHL preseason game at the MGM Grand Garden.

For Kopitar, the penalty shot goal in Las Vegas was a precursor to his best season. The fifth-year center had a career-high 34 goals and 81 points to lead the Kings into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2002. He was also a plus player for the first time (plus-6).

"Last year was such a positive, not just for me, but for our entire organization," said Kopitar, back in town with the Kings for today’s 6 p.m. Frozen Fury XIII rematch against Colorado.

"We had been struggling to make the playoffs, and we had a very good year last year. Hopefully we can follow what the Chicago Blackhawks did and put ourselves in a position to compete for the Stanley Cup."

The Kings are a sexy pick by experts to make a deep run into the playoffs next spring. Coach Terry Murray has installed a disciplined defense while not limiting the offensive skills of his top snipers, such as Kopitar.

"We have to build on what we did last year and take that next step," Kopitar said. "It all starts with good defense. That’s a mindset we have to have."

Kopitar said his plus-minus improvement proved he’s more than a scorer, but scoring is his main job. During the preseason, in which the Kings are 2-1-1, Murray has had him centering established scorers Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown on the No. 1 line. The trio combined for 80 goals and 190 points last year, and, by playing them together, Murray wants to pressure opponents to match up defensively, creating possible advantages for his other lines.

"It’s a great mix," Kopitar said. "If you try to shut one of us down, the other two can hurt you."

So far no one has been able to hurt Kopitar to the point that he’s had to sit out because of an injury. He has played 255 consecutive games dating to March 21, 2007.

"The summer is the key," Kopitar said of his durability. "Preparing yourself and getting your body ready for 82 games. You also have to be a little lucky."

The Kings begin the regular season a week from today at Vancouver.

■ NOTES — Los Angeles is 9-2-2 all time in the Frozen Fury series, which began in 1997. In 1998, the Kings played two games against the Avalanche at the MGM Grand.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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