The fearsome Boston Bruins rolled into LA Thursday night for a showdown of two teams who were defensively the best in the league, at least if goals against is an indicator. And before half the game was over, the Kings had done away with Boston’s super-low GAA by putting three past Tuuka Rask and chasing him to the bench. Goals two and three came so fast that Coach Julien barely had time to say, “Get that baseball cap off” to his backup. But that he did, and Mr. Rask was on the pine to contemplate his sloppy play.
Two of the goals he allowed, the second and third, were on the weak side. One went through his arm and body on a Williams wrister. The other traveled through all kinds of traffic from the blueline, by Martinez. After the game he said that he doesn’t mind the hook. “I’m always OK with that. I couldn’t help the team enough and we weren’t playing well.”
The Kings, meanwhile, were enjoying the chance to open the game up, and actually fearlessly trading chances with the Bruins. Witness that they did not score on a 3-on-1 in the second period. The Bruins then had one of their own, and they got a goal. It came off a neutral zone turnover. Soderberg sent the puck over to Fraser, who banged it by Quick. He had no chance. This came off a neutral zone turnover where Hamilton had gotten the puck out of the Kings’ clutches.
The shots were quite uneven through the first two frames, with the Kings having outshot their opponents 27-12 by the end of two. The score was 3-1.
Maybe the question the Kings were answering was whether they could play with the big boys in the NHL. Not that they have done poorly versus the elite teams, but Boston, if there’s any prototype of a team that has to be beaten to get anywhere near a second Cup, is it. They’re fast, they’re strong, and they’re fearsome. Williams, after the game, said, “I thought we were very assertive tonight. We obviously got to them . . . and when their push came at us, we responded. We beat a good team over there tonight.”
One measure of Boston’s strength is that the Bruins have a lot of players on their roster with lots of penalty minutes, including Iginla, Lucic, Thornton, Chara, and McQuaid. The Kings have relatively fewer, but on this night, Kyle Clifford added a fighting major to his total of 51 (this was his 36th game thus far). That’s not all that unusual, except that there’s so little fighting in the West these days that it seems so. In fact, I can’t remember the last Kings fight at home.
The Kings traded Boston speed for speed. They took penalties and they had power plays. They watched their goalie bail them out a few times, one notably in the third with the score 4-1 when Quick followed Marchant across the crease and extended his glovc over his split legs to make a save. Boston was a man up at the time.
To get back to Williams, he further said, “Sometimes things have a way of evening out. We scored one on fifty shots last game, and it’s kind of justice that we scored four tonight.” He added by comparison with the teams the Kings see in the West typically, “It’s simply one game, but they’re a big team, they’re physical. You don’t have to look much further than their captain, but they’ve got a lot of mobile guys back there, too. That seems to be what’s going on in the league right now. We kept them in front of us for the most part, and when you score four goals, you should win.”
Four goals is a greater output than the Kings have had since mid-December. Only one other game during that time featured four Kings goals. Early in the season, they were scoring, with games featuring five and even seven goals, but not so much of late. Most games now, three goals is the max for LA.
Goal number four, scored on Craig Johnson after he’d stopped just under ten shots, came off the stick of Dustin Brown. He cruised down the right wing and got a pass from Stoll. The Captain then fired a wrister long side past the netminder. It was all speed through the neutral zone that did it. But he wouldn’t take much credit for his feat after the game. He said more about Williams and Quick than about himself. About the former, “He’s able to get shots off very quick and very hard. He’s one of the best players I’ve played with when it comes to that type of shooting,” And of his goalie, “Being out for seven weeks, it didn’t seem like he missed a game, even in his first game back. That’s a credit to him, doing the work that he needs to to be ready, and that’s why he’s the best goalie.”
Coach Sutter said, “We’ve played good for six or seven games. Get five of six points, you get some breathing room in terms of not having to protect a one-goal lead.”
He finished by saying, “It’s important to get the first goal. It’s hard to chase leads. Teams are too close.”
Before the game, the Kings celebrated Coach Sutter for having coached 1,000 games. His wife and son were on the ice with him. His gifts included a very nice looking pair of cowboy boots and a trip for the family after the season is over. Surely he’s hoping that will not take place until late June.
When asked after whether he would wear the boots behind the bench, he said, “Aw hell, I thought I was getting a tractor.” I asked around the press corps after, and no one here has any idea where, or how, you buy a tractor. Good thing they didn’t give that job to us.
My book Pond Hockey did well at Christmas, but for those of you who haven’t read it, what they heck you waiting for? Email me after you do.