Follow @frozenroyaltyEL SEGUNDO, CA — Looking back at the Los Angeles Kings’ first round playoff series win over the Vancouver Canucks, the first things that come to mind are the play of right wing Dustin Brown, and goaltender Jonathan Quick.
There was also a series-winning overtime goal scored by center Jarret Stoll, which, by itself, is significant. But that goal has even greater significance when you look below the surface.
“If you look at the series we just finished, if you think about it, you want to handle the three big guys on their team, even though [center] Ryan Kesler didn’t have as a big a year, numbers-wise,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “Even strength goals—they didn’t score one, the Sedins and [Kesler]. From our side of it, we got five goals from Jarret Stoll, Dustin Penner, Trevor Lewis, and Brad Richardson, so it’s not always about stars. In fact, we just showed that it wasn’t.”
In case you didn’t notice, Sutter just ticked off the names of four players who combined for a measly 21 goals during the regular season, with (gulp!) Penner leading the way among them with seven goals.
For the Canucks, they got just one goal each from left wing Alexandre Burrows, right wing Jannik Hansen, and center Samuel Pahlsson. Even worse, they got nothing at all from left wings David Booth and Mason Raymond, or any of their other forwards.
In other words, players who were mostly non-factors during the regular season, in terms of scoring, were rather large factors against the Canucks. One might even make the case that they were just as important as any other factor in the Kings moving on to face the St. Louis Blues in the second round.
“Especially in the playoffs, you need your workers, your grinders, to chip in wherever they can,” said center Colin Fraser. “Sometimes, that can be the difference, and it was the difference in the last game. That started with Lewis making a hard play, and with Stoll finishing it off.”
“Come playoff time, it’s the role players who, sometimes, chip in,” said Stoll. “Look at teams that have won. You have that consistent scoring throughout the lineup. It doesn’t matter which line it is, or which defensive pair it is. You’ve got to have different guys step up if you want to go deep in the playoffs.”
During that decisive Game 5 against the Canucks, before Stoll scored the overtime game-winner, Richardson, who was skating on the fourth line with Fraser and rookie right wing Jordan Nolan, tied the game early in the third period.
“It was nice for Richardson to get one, and be rewarded a little bit, and he hit the post on the next shift, too,” said Fraser. “It helps create energy for the rest of the guys, and then, they go do their thing.”
“[Scoring the goal] was nice, at the time, but I’ve already looked past that,” said Richardson. “I’m ready to play better, and, hopefully, there will be more big goals to come.”
“I always feel like when it gets [to be] more important, that’s when I want to play my best,” added Richardson. “But I’m still not satisfied. We’ve only won one round. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
But it was not just the contributions on the scoresheet by the third and fourth lines that was key to the Kings advancing to the second round. The heavy grunt work was right up there on the list as well.
“Down the stretch [against the Canucks] we were playing pretty well,” Fraser noted. “We weren’t putting up numbers, but we feel like we were doing our job, trying to provide energy, and playing in the offensive zone—doing the little things right, and working hard.”
“We take a lot of pride in being good on every shift,” said Nolan. “We might get three minutes [on one night], or ten minutes [on another], so we have to stay focused. Our line stepped up in a few games for the boys, and when you come back to the bench after a good shift where you give the team a spark, that’s a good feeling.”
The Kings’ fourth line was very effective, not so much on the scoresheet, but on the forecheck, keeping the Canucks bottled up in their own zone, wearing down their defensemen, while creating matchup problems for the opposition.
“We just want to keep it simple, and play in the offensive zone as much as we can,” Fraser stressed. “We want to score goals, but that’s not first and foremost on our list. Especially early [in games], getting pucks deep, and getting in on bodies—just cycling it down low, trying to wear the defensemen down in their own zone, making them work. Hopefully, that pays off later in the game.”
“With the third and fourth lines, there’s more responsibility on them in the playoffs, because the goal of the other team is to look at who the most obvious threats are, and they put their top defensive pair, their top checking line, against our top two lines,” Penner noted. “Then, we have that extra room to maneuver. That bodes well for a better matchup for us.”
“When you’re on the fourth line, it’s tough, when you’re playing four or five minutes, to contribute,” said Richardson. “But when you get up to eight or ten minutes, you feel like you’re more in the game, [and] if you’re [spending a lot of time] in the offensive zone, [Sutter] is going to keep putting you out there. It’s big if you can trust all the guys on the fourth line. It gives your top guys a chance to rest. We can give a little bit of energy to those guys, and show some hard work. Guys can feed off that.”
The Kings will need more of the same, if not more, from their third and fourth lines against St. Louis.
“They forecheck and hit, and they’re hard on you,” Lewis stressed. “Third and fourth lines can win you playoff games. You need them to be big, and I think we did a good job of that. Fraser’s line did a great job. That was huge for us.”
“We just talk about doing the same thing,” said Fraser. “You can never be satisfied. Everybody wants to be better all the time. The second you’re satisfied, that’s when you have an off night.”
“Have we been good? Yeah, we feel pretty good. But now, we want to get better, and do even better against St. Louis.”
Nolan Not Looking Out Of Place
As noted earlier in this story, Nolan is a rookie, a seventh round draft pick (186th overall, 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft), who played in 26 regular season games for the Kings after being recalled from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, on February 10.
But the 22-year-old, 6-3, 227-pound native of Garden River, Ontario has not had that familiar deer-in-the-headlights look that so many rookies have had in the playoffs. Rather, he has shown maturity and composure beyond his years.
“I felt pretty comfortable out there,” he said. “I knew it was going to be really intense, playing in Vancouver in the playoffs, and being my first time playing there. I feel like I adapted well to the situation, and it helps to work with line mates who work just as hard as you do. We make it easy on each other. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
“There was a little nervousness, but also a lot of excitement,” he added. “It was a big thrill. They’re fans are into the game, and we were in Vancouver, playing on CBC, which is big back home, so I had a lot of buddies and family watching back home.”
Even more surprising was the fact that Nolan was called up to the Kings in the first place, given the fact that the Kings needed scoring help at the time he was recalled. Despite that, he played well for the Kings right away.
“When I first got called up, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be for a weekend, one game, ten games…just the fact that I stuck it out for the rest of the season, and I’m in the lineup for the playoffs, is pretty exciting,” said Nolan. “I’m pretty proud of myself. I’ve worked hard for the past few years. I’m just really proud to be here.”
With one round of NHL playoff games under his belt, how does post-season hockey at this level compare to the regular season?
“I don’t think it’s extremely more difficult,” he noted. “It’s a lot more intense, it’s a lot of mental game, because there’s lot of games within the game. But if you’re strong, mentally, the game is going to come around for you.”
“It’s going to get tougher as the games go on, but I’m adapting well to it,” he added.
His teammates have certainly taken notice.
“He’s awesome to play with,” Fraser emphasized. “He’s big and strong, he protects pucks well down low, and he’s been confident since day one, really. He’s played well in every game, and between him, Richardson, and Clifford, they’re in on the forecheck first all the time.”
Penner Says He’s Distraction-Free
Penner scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the series against Vancouver, and was effective in all three zones throughout most of the series. In fact, his play improved noticeably over the last six weeks of the regular season.
“It comes with being in the league for awhile,” he explained. “Obviously, I didn’t want to have to flick the switch, but I got things figured out so that I was able to focus when I got to the rink.”
What was it that he figured out?
“Just being able to clear my head of any distractions,” he said.
What could those distractions be?
Due to the fact that there is nothing but an unconfirmed report published by the celebrity news/gossip site TMZ.com that Penner’s wife has filed for divorce, one can only speculate. But the bottom line is that, at least in terms of the Kings, if it means Penner’s head is into the game 100 percent, there is a solid chance he could be even more effective as the Kings move into the Western Conference semi-finals against the Blues.
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice, April 24, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Colin Fraser (2:38)
Trevor Lewis (3:33)
Jarret Stoll (2:36)
Slava Voynov (1:52)
Darryl Sutter (13:57)
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice, April 25, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Jordan Nolan (2:58)
Dustin Penner (3:07)
Jonathan Quick (2:42)
Brad Richardson (2:26)
Jarret Stoll (2:12)
Darryl Sutter (1:46)
2012 Western Conference Quarterfinal, Los Angeles Kings vs Vancouver Canucks, Game 5 Highlights, April 22, 2012
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home playoff games against the St. Louis Blues – May 3, 2012, 7:00 PM PDT (Blues vs. Kings: Game 3); May 6, 12:00 PM (Blues vs. Kings: Game 4); May 10, TBD (Blues vs. Kings: Game 6 – if necessary), are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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