AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Includes audio of May 2 post-practice interviews with Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, forward Dustin Brown, defenseman Jake Muzzin, and head coach Darryl Sutter.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — With all the talk over the past couple of days about a true rivalry that will be established between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, now that the two teams are finally meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the anticipation going into the series is palpable.
But beyond the hype, the game is played on the ice, and one team must win four games to advance to the conference finals.
For the Kings to accomplish that goal, they must clamp down defensively on the team that led the National Hockey League offensively during the regular season, averaging 3.21 goals per game, compared to the Kings’ 2.42 goals per game (ranked 26th in the league).
Posing an even greater challenge is the fact that it’s not just the Ducks’ top two lines that are dangerous. Indeed, Anaheim’s third and fourth lines have chipped in a lot more than had been expected.
“They’ve been the best team in our conference and our division all year long,” said winger and team captain Dustin Brown. “They’ve got a pretty big pair in [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry, but if you look at their numbers, across the board, they’ve got a lot of depth scoring.”
“They have some depth,” said center Anze Kopitar. “They have some twenty-goal scorers on their team, and [other players] in the high teens, too. You definitely have to pay attention, right down to the fourth line.”
“They have four solid lines that produce, and we have to be aware of that,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin. “We have to shut down all four lines, it’s not just the top two lines that produce. They’ve got a bunch of good guys over there.”
Although the advantage goes to the Ducks in terms of their third and fourth-line play, the Kings are not all that far behind in that department.
“Our forward depth right now, the way we’re rolling over the lines—it’s really coming together,” said center Jarret Stoll. “Two guys who added a lot to our team two years ago when we won are Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. Now, this year, we’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, who, I think, are really coming into their own, and are big, big reasons why we’re moving on here.”
“They’re both [really good players],” added Stoll. “The things they’re doing out there—Game 7, playing against [San Jose Sharks forwards] Joe Thornton, [Joe] Pavelski, and [Patrick] Marleau, coming up with big goals, big plays. I’m very impressed with those two, with what they bring to our lineup.”
Although the Ducks were ranked just 22nd in the league on the power play during the regular season, with the talent they have up front, the Kings know that giving them power play opportunities is just asking for trouble.
“They have a good power play, so first of all, it’s staying disciplined, not taking any unnecessary penalties,” Kopitar noted. “Then you have to contain them. They have some pretty big bodies. We have to eliminate time and space.”
One big body that the Kings, and Kopitar, in particular, will have to contain is Getzlaf, who leads the Ducks in playoff scoring with three goals and four assists for seven points.
For his part, Kopitar appears to be up to the challenge.
“He just got nominated for the Hart Trophy, and it’s well-deserved, so we have to play our game,” said Kopitar. “Play him hard, and make it tough on him. Don’t give him too much time and space, because if you do that, he’ll burn you. He’s done that in the past.”
As Kopitar indicated, the Kings just have to play their game, something they did not do in Games 1 and 2 in San Jose during the first round.
“[The Ducks are] built pretty much the same way [compared to the Kings],” said Kopitar. “They have big forwards, good goaltending, and a good defensive corps. We’re going to have to bring it, just like we did the last four games. We have to play our game, manage the puck well, and not give them the opportunity to create something off of turnovers.”
“I don’t think the game plan is going to change a whole lot,” added Kopitar. “We have to worry about our game, how we play, and what kind of effect we have on the game. The unnecessary turnovers have to be eliminated, managing the puck all over the ice has to be at the very highest level, and we’ll go from there.”
“We’re a good hockey team,” Stoll noted. “We have a great goaltender, our defense can play various types of games. They can skate, they can play the skill game, they can shut teams down.”
The Kings also know that they cannot afford another dismal start to a playoff series.
“Obviously, we have to get off to a better start in this series,” Brown stressed. “At the end of the day, they are a team that’s been at the top of our conference all year long, so we have to get off to a good start in the series. A lot of that starts with taking care of our own end and limiting turnovers, especially against some of their key guys.”
“If we don’t play our game in Game 1, we’ll get beaten,” Stoll emphasized. “That’s just the way it is. You’ve got to try to be as consistent as possible, and make sure everyone’s going. Nowadays, you can’t win with just one line and a great goaltender. You’ve got to have that depth throughout. Anaheim has it, we have it, and I’m pretty sure all the teams left in the playoffs have that kind of depth.”
“We have to keep playing that way, and keep getting better and better and better,” Stoll added. “[We have to] keep building that confidence and see where it takes us.”
Facing down adversity during the playoffs is often a key factor in a team’s playoff success, and the Kings have already faced more than their share, especially after having to outcome a 0-3 series deficit against the Sharks.
Although facing adversity is not something teams enjoy, or want to do, it often gives a team tremendous confidence.
“It’s the resolve of the group,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “When Jonathan Quick got hurt in Buffalo [back in November 2013], the media, the next day, was saying that we’re not going to make the playoffs because we lost Quick. Then, when we didn’t play very well in January, everybody was wondering if we were going to make the playoffs. But we came out [flying after] the Olympic break.”
“[Advancing to the second round of the playoffs] is just a continuation of being able to get through a little bit of adversity,” added Sutter. “Every team has to go through a little bit of adversity. We did during the regular season, two or three times, and we did it in the first round.”
“We’re a well-rounded team, I think,” said Stoll. “We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been in a lot of tough situations in the playoffs. They’ve won some big games, lost some big games. They have that experience, which helps as well.”
As the saying goes, each playoff round is more difficult than the previous one, and the Kings expect nothing less from the Ducks.
“We know our opponent, and we have a lot of respect for them,” Sutter noted. “We know it’s going to be a lot tougher series than the one we just played.”
In hockey, a potent offense can win games, but defense and goaltending is usually what wins championships. The Kings were the best defensive team in the NHL during the regular season, and returned to that form in Games 4-7 against San Jose.
Should that continue, with a clear advantage in goal, if the Kings manage the puck well, they should be able to advance to the Western Conference Final.
Kings in seven.
Muzzin Takes A Step Forward
Oft-maligned defenseman Jake Muzzin took a big step forward in his NHL career during the first round playoff series against the Sharks, and not just because he contributed two goals and three assists for five points in seven games.
Indeed, paired with defenseman Drew Doughty, Muzzin was a key factor in the series, primarily because he was solid defensively, earning a +3 plus/minus rating against the Sharks.
“It was a good series for us,” Muzzin said about playing with Doughty. “We played well in those last four games. There’s been a lot of good stuff, but we’ve got to continue to get better. The chemistry grows as we play together. It’s been good, so far.”
Muzzin deflected the praise, saying that the entire team stepped up after the embarrassing losses in Games 1 and 2 at San Jose.
“We were a lot better in our zone, getting pucks in and out, not giving them chances to get cycle opportunities,” he noted. “Quick made some big saves when called upon, but as a whole team, we definitely limited their chances by being quick in our zone, and I think we had better gaps on the rush, and better awareness on our [line] changes and on the rush as well.”
Now in his second NHL season, Muzzin’s first was during the lockout-abbreviated 2013 season. But that included three rounds of playoff hockey that gave him valuable experience.
“I felt a little bit more comfortable out there than last year,” he said. “Last year was a great experience, going through those series. Gaining that experience helped me out going into the playoffs this year.”
“You know how it’s going to get amped up,” he added. “You know about having the right attitude, and being desperate, stuff like that.”
Sutter indicated that added experience has been critical for Muzzin’s improvement.
“It’s probably just a little bit more experience,” he observed. “If you take last year’s playoffs, he was in and out of the lineup. He didn’t play much. This year, we had to rely on him a little bit more, to get him ready for the playoffs. It’s just a continuation of that.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Dustin Brown (1:29)
Anze Kopitar (5:36)
Darryl Sutter (2:52)
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