Despite what people say, no game at this time of year is a must win, really. But a “we’d like to win,” maybe. So it was for the LA Kings with Dallas in town Thursday night. They came into the game in the playoffs by a point while the Stars were out by that same point. Dallas had played to a 5-2 loss a couple of nights earlier in Anaheim and the Kings had taken a day off after beating the Washington Capitals by that same 5-2 score on Monday. The winner would swap places in the standings with the loser.
That bigger picture was hardly in mind as fans watched the game, though, because what was more apparent was that this was going to be interesting. When was the last time you saw 30 shots for one team before the end of period two? And especially when that team is called the LA Kings. Add to that lots of power plays on both sides, some rough stuff, but the right kind (more on that later), and pretty nice goaltending despite an eventual 5-4 score (OT, Dallas).
When was the last time the Kings had offense first on their minds? It seems that they’re starting to pick up their new coach’s message, which is to get bodies and pucks in front of the net, and even though coming into period three they were trailing by a goal, they’d had a couple of good chances where the entire line of Kopitar, Williams, and Brown had been in or around the crease when the puck got there. That’s far different from their usual m.o., which is to play with the puck along the wall with nobody in front of the net when the puck finally ends up there.
But the real story here for Kings fans was the fact that their power play, which hasn’t been any good, clicked. Goals one, three, and four for LA were scored with the extra man (or two, in the case of goal three), breaking them out of their doldrums of being 27th in the league coming into the night.
Their best chance came when Fistrik cleared a puck over the glass to give the Kings a two-man advantage for more than a minute. They passed the puck back and forth with both defensemen pinching down low, and it went in off a one-timer. Doughty and Kopitar had been playing catch with it, and it went back and forth between them and then Doughty fooled the defenders by passing to a creeping Jack Johnson instead of out high to Kopitar. Johnson one-timed it into the net.
It was Johnson’s second goal in two games, the prior one being the game winner on Monday. At that time, he had shrugged off the tally, saying with a grin, “I’m not here to score goals.” On Thursday, he was not available for comment, having left the room by the time we were let in.
With the game tied 3-3 as the third period got to halfway, the Stars took another penalty, Dvorak for slashing. The Kings by this point had closed a shots disadvantage and were now ahead, 33-30. Kopitar threw the puck across the crease to Brown, who stuck out a stick and put it behind Kari Lehtonen to give the hometown team a 4-3 lead.
Wait, you say—is this the Kings we’re talking about? The team that played 1-0 and 2-1 games for what seemed like weeks? The team which couldn’t support its goaltender with more than a pair of goals no matter that they tried? Yup. They had scored four goals, and interestingly, with four minutes left, the shots were tied at 35 apiece. Action, adventure—this Kings team has it all, friends.
Has Sutter come from the North with a magic formula that has unleashed the flow of goals this team has been lacking? Or do the numbers just eventually catch up with a team, good or bad? In this case, maybe having a handful of guys who can score twenty or thirty goals but who were not doing it has to give way at some point to greater success? Didn’t matter if the team was to win, but that wasn’t in the cards.
It all came apart, or at least came to nothing, when the Stars scored on a late power play due to Mike Richards being in the box for four minutes. For what? Unsportsmanlike conduct and an instigator penalty. Why? Because he was fighting (it wasn’t much of a punch-up, actually) Brandon Morrow after the latter had hit Kopitar and knocked him flat to the ice, where he’d stayed for several minutes.
Richards’ penalties cost the team the win, you could say, since they let Dallas score. But is that so bad? A few weeks ago, Kopitar had been knocked down behind the net—in much the same place, actually, as on this night—and I asked him what he thought of his team doing nothing to come to his aid. He said, essentially, that having the power play that resulted was enough.
“Bulls&%#” was my reaction. That’s never how hockey’s been played, at least not in this country or Canada.
Now Sutter, despite seeing his team lose the game in OT after the Dallas goal tied it on Richards’ penalty, said of him standing up for Kopitar, “That’s what good teams do, right?”
No questions, no doubts, no hesitation. That, if there’s anything that tells you what this team will be, is all you need to know.
And here’s another thing to note in the continuing effort to figure out the puzzle who is Sutter. When asked about his star, he said, “bloody nose,” and when asked later again, “I don’t know what you guys want me to tell you. I’m not the doctor, and I’m not Kopitar.” But he said the player would likely be OK for the next game. Why did he say that?
Because he’s a real hockey guy, and real hockey guys get up from injuries, dust themselves off, and play some more (remember Eric Belanger taking out his own teeth fragments on the bench in the playoffs of 2010?). And that gutsy approach is starting to infect this team, for the positive, as is that message of his to get to the net and put pucks there.
The team will now be tested by playing Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver in four nights. Talk about some rough-tough hockey!
Sutter took far too long to get to the press after the game, and a local writer plans to file a protest over it.
Lots of celebs were around, including Steven Tyler.
The first intermission featured a kids game with young Brent Brewster, as noted here in prior stories. Hard to say if he was the one boy who scored a goal during the 1-0 contest.