EL SEGUNDO, CA — Despite clinching a playoff berth on April 6, the Los Angeles Kings had much to play for going into a home-and-home series to end their 2010-11 regular season.
The equation was simple: win both games and clinch fourth place in the Western Conference, which would earn them home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
More important, the Kings would also avoid a first round matchup against the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, or Detroit Red Wings, the top three teams in the West.
But that plan went out the window when the Kings got sloppy and dropped a 2-1 decision at Anaheim on April 8.
Given the fact that the Kings are missing their best player, star center Anze Kopitar, the result of such a matchup in the first round would likely be a sweep, maybe a 4-1 drubbing and another long summer.
Indeed, the Kings no longer control their own destiny in terms of avoiding a matchup against any of the top three teams in the West.
As of this writing, the Kings are sixth in the Western Conference, and, if the season was over, they would face the vaunted Red Wings in the first round.
But if the Kings win tonight’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (7:30 PM PDT, Staples Center), they face the following possibilities:
The Kings could wind up in fourth place if both the Nashville Predators and the Phoenix Coyotes lose in regulation. But this is an unlikely scenario with the Predators facing the St. Louis Blues.
If either Nashville or Phoenix lose in regulation, the Kings could end up in fifth place. This is a greater possibility with the Coyotes at San Jose tonight.
If both the Predators and Coyotes win or earn a point in an overtime/shootout loss, the Kings will rank sixth.
If the Kings lose tonight, depending on what other teams do, they could end up as low as eighth place and a first round date with the best team in the National Hockey League this season, the Vancouver Canucks, a series that would likely end up in a four-game sweep for the Canucks.
If that doesn’t spell out how crucial tonight’s game is for the Kings, nothing will.
“There’s great significance to the game for us tonight,” head coach Terry Murray stressed. “We want to finish as high in the standings as we possibly can. With the way this is [ending], with the last two weeks in this conference and division, it’s been incredible. It’s going to go right down to that final game of year here, and Sunday, to determine what the standings are going to be.”
“We want to put ourselves in the most positive position that we can, so finishing this regular season with a win is what we’re shooting for.”
But if the Kings play another game filled with turnovers and poor defensive zone play, they will only have themselves to blame for making their playoff lives as difficult as possible.
“The energy was good, I thought we had a really good start, but it got a little hectic at times, through failing to execute the fundamentals of the game,” Murray said about the 2-1 loss at Anaheim on April 8. “That is the concern, and I don’t know how to measure that. I can’t say that was a let down, but, certainly, we got away from playing the right way.”
“When you get into big games like that, it gets pretty hectic, the tempo and pace is high,” Murray added. “It’s playoff-like, and that’s where you’ve got to trust your system and fundamentals. Coming out of that, I was just wishing that we would trust that more than we did.”
Indeed, the Kings lacked the focus, poise and composure that a playoff team must have.
“We were away from the team play,” said Murray. “Passing the puck was inconsistent. Turnovers at both blue lines were coming right back down our throat. That’s what happens if your focus is not where it needs to be.””
“The first few shifts were good, the end of the first period was chaotic in our own end, the way we tried to break out of our own end, turning the puck over and having it come right back at us,” added Murray. “That’s the part where you wish your game was in place—deal with it, handle it and do the right stuff. Just play the right way.”
Kopitar was present at the Toyota Sports Center during the morning skate on April 9, walking on crutches and with a cast on his right foot/ankle. He spoke to the media for the first time since his suffered a high ankle sprain and torn ligaments on March 26.
“I’ve had [the cast] since the surgery,” Kopitar explained. “Hopefully, it’s coming off on Monday, so I can put that walking boot on again, which will be a little more comfortable, and just go from there.”
When Kopitar went down, he immediately knew he was in a lot of trouble.
“I felt a pop right away on the ice, and I had a big stinger down my leg,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything. I think I tried to get up and skate to the bench, but I buckled. I knew something was wrong, and I felt a pop again.”
“I was hoping it was just going to be the bone, and not everything else,” he added. “It’s unfortunate, but that happens sometimes. It’s pretty much the same injury Justin Williams had last year.”
In other words, it is not just a high ankle sprain with torn ligaments, which is the Kings’ official word on the injury. As they first reported, there is, obviously, at least one broken bone in there, too.
Even though it’s not possible, Kopitar is already itching to get back on the ice.
“It’s so hard,” said Kopitar. “When you’re here all the time, sometimes, getting away for a couple of days is nice. So, the first couple of days was, you’re thinking, ‘ok, this is not too bad right now.’ But on day four, I hit a wall. I was ready for the bone to heal again, and get going. But it’s not going to be that easy.”
“You’re sitting there on the couch, watching games, but you can’t do anything about it. You can’t do anything, so it’s a lot of TV, the computer, games on the computer. That’s it.”
Speaking of Williams, who has been skating for the last week or so, it is starting to look like he will return to action by the time the Kings play their first game of the playoffs next week.
“He’ll see our doctor tonight,” Murray noted. “He had [a strength test] already, and it was really good. I don’t have a percentage, but it was very high. Then, there’s just a conversation about what the consequences could be, and as long as you know that going in, and you can deal with it, I think there’s a possibility that he could get himself ready to play.”
If Williams is cleared by doctors, Murray will not hesitate to put him right back into the lineup.
“I wouldn’t mind leaving that to the game, the contact situations, the compete situation,” said Murray. “His skating is starting to come back. He’s done a lot of hard skating the last several days. If that’s in place, then I wouldn’t want to risk some kind of drill that’ll put him into a vulnerable situation.”
“I’d like to see him just go out and play,” added Murray. “He’s a skilled player who can do a lot of good things for us. It’ll be important to have him in the lineup.”
“His last test with the doctor a week ago was very good. He continues to go through the same process with his rehab. All you’re trying to do is re-tighten those muscles so that it gives you as close to 100 percent strength as possible.”
Kings Hosting Bone Marrow Registry Drive
The Kings are partnering with “Be The Match” during tonight’s game for a Bone Marrow Registry Drive across from section 115 in hopes of finding a match for 19-year old Kings Fan, Tanner Raboin. Tanner is a college student who is battling chronic illness as a result of a genetic disorder called Chronic Granulomatous Disease (CGD).
For more details, click on: Kings Partner With “Be The Match” In Hopes Of Helping A Kings Fan As Part Of Fan Appreciation Day.
Raw audio interviews from the morning skate on April 9, 2011
(Edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Anze Kopitar (3:34)
Terry Murray (7:57)
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