The Kings may be perfect on the road this postseason, but they need their top line to step up in Newark.
By JON ROSENFS West
As imminent as a game-winner may have appeared to some after Drew Doughty's third-period equalizer Wednesday night, the
Los Angeles Kings once again boarded a charter flight bound for a Game 5, expecting their stiffest challenge during a postseason in which
they've bit, clawed and scraped to a 15-3 record.
"We're not going to add more pressure than we need to," Dustin Penner said about resetting for an emotional Game 5. "We're going to have the same amount of pressure that we've always had put on ourselves throughout these playoffs."
At no point in either of their two previous Game 5s did Kings fans ever feel comfortable with the team's predicament, as Darryl Sutter's club erased deficits to engineer a pair of come-from-behind wins in overtime.
In a 2-1 win in Vancouver on April 22 and a 4-3 win over Phoenix one month later, 12 different Kings recorded points in a spread out scoring effort. Drew Doughty had a goal and two assists and was the only skater who pulled in more than three points, equaling the combined contribution of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, none of whom factored into the Three Stars voting in either game.
To ease such heavy reliance on Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles' top line has to re-establish the dominance that had lifted it in previous series. Kopitar and Williams have produced their highlights this series, but Brown hasn't scored since his third-period game winner against Phoenix in Game 1 and is looking to build on his one assist this series.
Saturday would be a good time for L.A.'s penalty kill — perhaps that dynamic combination of Doughty, Mitchell, Brown and Kopitar? — to finally make its mark on the Stanley Cup Final, not that a perfect 15-for-15 effort is any cause for alarm.
Of course, things are obviously going well when there's a call for more shorthanded goals.
The cobwebs have been dusted off on the Kings' power play, which broke open the dam with a three for six effort at Staples Center after 18 consecutive unsuccessful and disjointed man advantages.
"Our power play moved around pretty good," Justin Williams said Thursday. "We had ample opportunities to score and get ourselves a lead. We weren't able to do it. The power play's going well."
"On the other side of it, I don't think we were as good as we could be in the neutral zone, defending the rush. We're going to get better at those."
They'll get plenty of opportunities to improve against New Jersey's quick transition attack in a Game 5 likely to contain the greatest challenge they have faced out of any previous postseason game.
The Devils clearly were able to raise their level of play in previous series. Peter DeBoer pulled his team's strings to an 8-1 record and 29-16 goal tally in Games 4 through 7 against Florida, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers.
In Game 4, Petr Sykora was inserted seamlessly into the lineup and was boasted a standout scoring chance or two, while Henrik Tallinder became more engaged as the game progressed and was eventually able to add some much-needed size to a New Jersey blueline that has to contend against L.A.'s large and deceptively quick wingers. Tallinder played for the first time since January 17, effectively rehabilitated from a blood clot in his leg.
More importantly, Martin Brodeur produced his finest effort of the series on Wednesday, not that he could ever be validly criticized for backing a team that had scored four goals through its first three games.
Saturday's game in Newark is more likely to resemble the Game 5 defensive battle in Vancouver than the emotionally animated 4-3 triumph in Phoenix in which the teams combined for 92 shots on goal, 10 power plays, and a hurt feeling or two in the Coyotes handshake line.
Brodeur, much like Corey Schneider was able to do in the Vancouver series, should be expected every bit to go toe-to-toe with Jonathan Quick, whose 1.39 goals against average and .948 save percentage in the postseason are superior to the numbers posted by Tim Thomas one year ago.
"They've been working so hard," Brodeur said of his teammates. "The least I could do is give them a chance to win. That's what I'm doing. I don't really care if I affect the other team mentally or whatever. That's up to them to figure it out. For me, it's all about my team, the way I play for them."
The Kings are a perfect 10-0 on the road this postseason, but Darryl Sutter would likely be one to explain that previous series and lineup alignments are not applicable when the puck drops Saturday at the Prudential Center, the site of two evenly played games that could have swung in either direction.
"Go play on the road," he said Thursday. "No big deal."
Penner, the overtime hero in a Game 5 victory over Phoenix, put his own value on the worth of the team's consistent road success.
"Well, it's definitely better than having a losing record on the road," he said.