Kings' third line steps up in time for Game 1
The regular season didn't go the way the Kings had hoped. Not at all. But they have a chance to make it right, and they took the first step toward that on Wednesday night in Vancouver.
The Kings, expected to be one of the Western Conference's top teams this season, instead finished eighth and drew the toughest-possible first-round matchup, against the Vancouver Canucks, winners of the President's Trophy. But the Kings did a lot of things right Wednesday and won Game 1 by a score of 4-2.
The Kings didn't play a perfect game, but they won the critical areas. They got two power-play goals and kept the high-powered Vancouver power play off the board. They had a strong forecheck for most of the game and the game-winning goal came from the oft-maligned third line, and oft-maligned winger Dustin Penner, who scored only seven goals in the regular season.
"We played well," center Mike Richards said. "Our power play still needs to be better, because it's going to be a crucial part of the series. It's something we have to work on, but overall I thought we played well. We got pucks in deep. We didn't do anything special except just get the puck in deep and try to make them make mistakes and control the game as much as possible."
The Kings, no doubt, will expect a big push-back from the Canucks. During the regular season, the Canucks lost consecutive games in regulation only five times. Game 2 is Friday night in Vancouver.
"I think we've been in the playoffs a couple times now, and we understand a little better what it's about, and the mindset you need to have," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We're playing a team that has dominated this league for the last two years, and we can't have any letdowns."
Strong penalty-kill unit flexes muscles
--A quick glance at the regular-season statistics suggested that special teams would play a huge part in this season, and they did in Game 1. The Kings went 2-for-8 on the power play, and scored one goal during a five-minute major. The Kings also went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, a huge statistic against a Vancouver team that ranked fifth in power-play percentage in the regular season. The Kings' penalty-kill unit, though, has been a team strength for the past three seasons. The Kings got power-play goals from Mike Richards and Willie Mitchell.
--The Kings regained the services of winger Jeff Carter, who missed the final five games of the regular season, but going forward, they might be without fourth-line winger Kyle Clifford. Clifford took a big hit into the boards from Vancouver's Byron Bitz, who received a five-minute major for boarding. Clifford stayed on the bench for the rest of the second period but did not return for the start of the third period. The Kings announced only that Clifford had suffered an "upper-body injury." The Kings are also without Simon Gagne, who has been out since Dec. 26 with a concussion, and Scott Parse, who had hip surgery in November. Neither of those players is even practicing, and neither is expected to return this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We earned this one. We can't rest on our laurels now. There's a lot more hockey to be played, and we know they're going to come out even better in the next game." -- Kings winger Dustin Penner.
--RW Jeff Carter missed the final five games of the regular season because of an ankle injury, but was able to return to the lineup for Game 1. Carter had been practicing with the team in recent days, but his return to game action wasn't confirmed until Wednesday's morning skate. Carter regained his spot on the Kings' second line, alongside C Mike Richards and LW Dwight King. Acquired just before the trade deadline, in a deal with Columbus, Carter had six goals and three assists in 16 regular-season games with the Kings.
--LW Brad Richardson did not appear at Kings practice Tuesday, and afterward, coach Darryl Sutter told a surprised group of media members that Richardson had undergone an emergency appendectomy Monday night. Richardson played in Saturday's regular-season finale, but Sutter said on Tuesday that Richardson had been suffering from stomach pains in recent days. Richardson was released from the hospital on Tuesday but did not accompany the Kings to Vancouver for the start of the series. It is not known when Richardson might be able to return to practice.
--C Andrei Loktionov had to be as surprised as anyone when he learned that he would be coming to Vancouver for the start of the NHL playoffs. Loktionov got the call to replace LW Brad Richardson, who underwent an emergency appendectomy on Monday. Loktionov split this season between the Kings (39 games) and the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (32 games) but didn't make a big impact in either league. With the Kings, mostly in a third-line role, Loktionov had three goals and four assists. Loktionov was a healthy scratch for Game 1 and, barring injuries, isn't expected to play.