Reports: Kings' Gagne back in lineup

Reports: Kings' Gagne back in lineup

Published Jun. 4, 2012 12:17 p.m. ET

Los Angeles Kings forward Simon Gagne will play his first NHL game since Dec. 26 tonight in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, according to multiple reports.

The Kings lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 and host the New Jersey Devils tonight at Staples Center at 5 p.m. PT.

Brad Richardson is the almost certain press box assignment after
appearing in 13 consecutive games for Los Angeles since joining the
lineup for Game 3 of the Vancouver series. Richardson scored in his
second postseason game while maintaining an even plus/minus rating but
hadn’t quite found as pronounced a role alongside the effective energy
combination of center Colin Fraser and right wing Jordan Nolan.

Gagne, who had been out of the lineup due to concussion-like sympoms,
could either slot into a fourth-line role or alongside Jarret Stoll and
Trevor Lewis as the third line left wing, which would slide unsung
playoff contributor Dwight King, who has five goals, alongside Fraser
and Nolan.

Having skated for three months, Gagne had been practicing with the AHL and junior call-ups throughout the Kings’ playoff run, which has now entered its ninth week. He had been cleared to return to action in the Phoenix series and rejoined his LA teammates at full practice while skating on a line with Andrei Loktionov and Marc-Andre Cliché.

“I know that when those guys kept winning and we were getting closer maybe to the Final, maybe I was going to have a chance to play,” Gagne said at media day last week. “Right now I’m at that point that I know I’m going to be ready if I get the call from the coach.”

His concussion was suffered midway through a 4-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Dec. 26, and his latest concussion of his career was in all likelihood going to keep him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. First spotted back on the ice at LA’s training facility in March, he had already skated for two and a half months when it came time to get final clearance from doctors and pass the league’s concussion protocol.

“I was feeling so good that I was really confident that I was going to pass all those tests, and that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago,” Gagne said at media day.

Though his likelihood of seeing any remaining action this season appeared bleak, the Kings’ current run has allowed him the time to get his legs underneath him. Conditioning was the major remaining hurdle keeping him from returning to playoff hockey, and he apparently showed enough to coach Darryl Sutter to be inserted into the lineup ahead of Kyle Clifford.

The move could add some life to Los Angeles’ offense, which had averaged 2.93 goals per game entering the series but has been limited to only one goal in regulation in back to back 2-1 overtime wins in New Jersey. Gagne also possesses plenty of power play acumen – it was one of the reasons the Kings courted him – and could provide a boost to a unit that has been stymied in its last 18 man advantages and is operating at only 7.8% this postseason.

Any question over the need to disrupt the chemistry of a lineup that has posted a 14-2 record thus far in the playoffs should be tempered by Gagne’s experience-tested playoff ability. First amongst the Kings with 105 career playoff games and 37 playoff goals, Gagne also displayed a clutch touch with Philadelphia in the 2010 postseason. Having returned from a toe injury, he scored the overtime game winner in Game 4 of the Boston series that the Flyers won in seven games after erasing a three-games-to-none series deficit. He potted the power play game-winner with 7:08 remaining to lift Philadelphia to a 5-4 win in Boston in Game 7.