CHICAGO — Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals might have been somewhat of an anomaly for both teams. Neither team felt they played their best hockey, with one just a little stale from one too many days off and one a little weary from only a single day off.
Now, after looking at film and resetting a day removed from a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings were able to take away postivies in a few key elements: Puck management and capitalizing on opportunities.
"Yesterday? Geez, I thought we played a hell of a game," said Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter. "Take advantage of our opportunities, we’re standing here today up 1-0."
The Kings were able to penetrate the Blackhawks’ zone but couldn’t get bodies at the net in front of goaltender Corey Crawford. It’s nothing major and it wasn’t a bad loss. The Kings’ biggest postseason strength is their ability to make key adjustments down the stretch, but Sunday night that ability suddenly disappeared.
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"We’ve got be to be tighter," said forward Jarret Stoll. "We’ve made adjustments all throughout the playoffs. Against San Jose we had to a better job defensively, breaking the puck out quicker, making quicker plays. In the neutral zone, we had to lock that down too against San Jose. It’s the same thing here. We’ve got to tighten things up."
The Blackhawks are masterful at eliminating space, forcing the Kings to pass with precision. Turn the puck over, and their speedy wingers will make sure you don’t see it again.
"I think it is puck management," Stoll said. "I think they’re really good on the rush, obviously. The games I think of in the past and the one last night, they’ve had some open ice on the rush and coverage is tough when the skill that comes at you like that with the speed and the space that they create."
Crawford’s 1.90 goals against average and .933 save percentage both top the league in the playoffs. The Chicago penalty kill allows for almost nothing and the defending champs’ defensive core is dangerous in all three zones.
Opportunities were there for the taking. The Kings didn’t take them in Game 1, but they’re confident they’ll find something to expose as the series wears on.
"Sometimes when you’re going through a playoff series you can see cracks," Stoll said. "Probably not after Game 1, but after Games 2, 3, 4, you can see cracks in teams and you push on them and push on them until their done. With our group, I don’t think we have any of that. I haven’t seen that in all the playoff rounds and series I’ve been part of with the Kings."
The old man and the kids
Jeff Carter looks like the older brother on the fourth line next to Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Nevermind that he’s eight years older than Pearson and seven years older than Toffoli — his full, lumberjack-style playoff beard is world’s away from Pearson and Toffoli’s. The latter’s is only now starting to show in we’re in the third round of the playoffs.
Carter, at 29 years old, is officially the old man on the Kid Line.
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"I’m sure I am," he said, laughing. "But you’ll have to ask them."
The fourth line scored the Kings’ only goal in Game 1 against Chicago and have scored some of the more timely goals throughout the postseason.
They’re making Carter feel young again.
"It goes quick when you’re in this league," Carter said. "It seems like yesterday that I was a young guy just going out there and wheeling around and playing hockey and having fun. You can definitely see that in them. When they get the puck, they create chances and they put the puck in the net.
"Tyler scores last night and you see them just laughing at each other. They have a blast out there and it is a lot of fun."
The Kings are playing from behind again. So what? They do it all the time.
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This time, they’re playing from behind against a team they haven’t had much recent success against. Since the 2013 postseason, the Kings are just 1-8 against the Blackhawks. However, that could be a good thing.
"Playoffs and regular season are two different animals," said Kings’ forward Justin Williams. "Obviously we didn’t do very well against Anaheim during the regular season and we were able to beat them."
Until L.A. tops Chicago in the postseason, don’t call it a rivalry.
"Rivalries only exist when another team wins, we haven’t done that yet," Williams said. "We have that set for us. We need to rise to the challenge."