LOS ANGELES — It might be appropriate to call the Kings late bloomers. But as they ready for Game 6 tonight at 7 p.m. on Prime Ticket – a game that many thought would never happen – it’s apparent that they are finally starting to hit their playoff stride.
"If you’re up 3-0 in the series then you’re in the driver’s seat," forward Anze Kopitar said. "But from experience, the fourth one is the toughest one to get. We gave ourselves a chance to climb back in. Now we want to give ourselves a chance to win the series."
The mistake-riddled games in San Jose are clearly behind them. They knew exactly what was going wrong – the forecheck, the odd-man rushes – and were able to make the adjustments to first fix the mistakes and then finally, as was the case Saturday night, eliminate them all together.
"(We haven’t been) turning over the puck as much," Kopitar said. "We haven’t turned it over in the neutral zone, we didn’t give them any chances off of our line changes like we did the first couple games. I think it’s just being sharp all over the ice."
The Sharks might be up 3-2 in the series, but they may be at a disadvantage on the ice. The injuries are mounting and they’ve made a goaltender change. The Kings don’t plan to prepare or play any differently against an adjusted lineup, this isn’t the time to change things up, but the Sharks are now left trying to fill the void of a difference-making defenseman in Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
"Because guys get banged up as a series goes along, there’s certainly a more controlled, physical part of playoffs," said head coach Darryl Sutter. "It’s about the whistle-to-whistle part of it, and there is a lot more contact in playoffs than there are in the regular season, for sure."
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There’s a lot more want a lot less questions in the Kings dressing room at the moment.
"I don’t think there’s any secrets with these two teams," said forward Justin Williams. "It’s how you approach the game and how you play and how you prepare for it and what team wants it more. I feel if we keep pushing, because we need to get better than we were the last game, from here on out we’ll be able to stay alive."
Other morning skate notes
– Vlasic did not take the morning skate with the Sharks and remains questionable. The Sharks’ most integral defenseman left Saturday’s game in the first period after taking a hit from Jarret Stoll. Stoll was called for roughing and Vlasic did not return.
Vlasic has missed only one game the entire season.
"It’s a loss to our hockey club, but it’s one we can overcome," said Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan. "Good teams that have opportunities to win and move on overcome adversity and this is one of those situations."
Matt Irwin or Matt Tennyson is expected to take the place of Vlasic. Neither defenseman has played in this postseason yet this year.
– The Sharks have elected to use goaltender Alex Stalock instead of Antti Niemi. Niemi has been the starter for each of the Sharks’ postseason games since coming to San Jose in the 2010-2011 season. He was pulled in the second period after the Kings scored their third goal.
McLellan declined to elaborate on the choice, saying only, "Alex Stalock will start today and we’ve made our decision."
– The Kings’ morning skate line rushes were the same ones used in Saturday night’s win, and it appears as though the usual trio of scratches (Matt Greene, Jordan Nolan and Colin Fraser) will be scratched once again. Jonathan Quick is still expected to be in the net.