With both teams holding court in their home arenas, the Los Angeles Kings – San Jose Sharks Western Conference Semifinal series shifts back to Los Angeles on Thursday for a pivotal Game that will determine which team will have an opportunity to close out the series in San Jose on Sunday at a time to be determined.
“It’s definitely the most important game so far this series,” Drew Doughty said. “We had two games we could have won in San Jose, and we’re the best on our home ice. When teams come in here, we want to make them afraid to play in Staples Center.”
Doughty’s confident words are backed up by a recent home tear. The Kings have won all five playoff games and 12 consecutive games overall at Staples Center, a site they haven’t lost at since a 1-0 defeat to Vancouver on March 23.
Neither San Jose nor Los Angeles were particularly strong road teams during the regular season, combining for a 16-26-6 record.
“You can just see how when we go into San Jose’s building we’re not the same team. When they come here, they’re not the same team,” Doughty said.
Game 5 will mark only the third time Matt Greene participated in a game on home ice since the season opener, when he suffered a back injury that required surgery and caused him to miss 42 games. Darryl Sutter was asked whether Greene’s usage could increase following a sturdy return to the lineup in Game 4.
“No, those are pretty normal minutes…Greene is a teen-minute guy,” he responded.
The Kings utilized the same line combinations seen during practice at the Toyota Sports Center on Wednesday, which means Kyle Clifford will see time alongside Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, Dustin Penner will be reunited with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown will skate opposite Dwight King on a line centered by Trevor Lewis. Brad Richardson, Colin Fraser and Tyler Toffoli are likely to skate together on the fourth line.
“I don’t think we’re splitting the atom here. I think it’s been done before,” Dustin Penner said. “We’re just looking for some more offense.”
Penner saw most of his time alongside Richards and Carter in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and feels comfortable stepping in once again. Dwight King had previously served as the left wing on the line.
“They’ve been playing together for I don’t know how many years,” Penner said. “Rick is a left shot…Carts has has got great speed, a great shot. It’s pretty simple. They work well together, and you just try to fit in and help ‘em.”
Though Penner appears to be amongst a handful of Kings who have raised their games in the playoffs, Sutter made it clear that the placement alongside Richards and Carter was not a promotion.
“We need a bigger, heavier game out of Dustin Penner. Very simple,” he said.
When asked about what Clifford would bring to the Kopitar line, Sutter responded “Ask me at 10:15 or later.”
“They’ve played together a little bit,” he continued. “They’ve played together off and on. It’s not really anything to do with Kyle, right? We need [those] guys to step their games up.”
Brown understood the line shuffling.
“I think when we score two goals in 120 minutes, you’ve got to mix it around,” he said. “With Kinger and Lewie, they’re both really hard working guys with pretty good skill low. They have that two-man cycle game down pretty pat. For us, it should be about simplifying our game, getting it in their zone, cycling them. The important thing I mentioned to Lewie and Kinger is it’s one thing to cycle. We’ve got to bring the pucks to the net when we have the opportunity. Sometimes it’s just bearing down and dropping your shoulder and going. With the size and the skill we have on the line, that should be on our goal.”
WAR OF WORDS
There were responses within Los Angeles’ locker room on Thursday after allegations against the team’s style of play from San Jose forwards Logan Couture and TJ Galiardi. Galiardi’s comments and Doughty’s responses were posted in an earlier thread.
Early in the second period in Game 4, Brown and Couture got tangled up in a heavy collision in the neutral zone.
Brown’s recollection of the play: “They went D-to-D and I was coming down on the D. I think [Couture] was supporting their D, and it was one of those ‘I’m going one direction, he’s going the other’ kind of those things where we both reacted and I think we probably went the same way.”
That sounds reasonable, though Couture offered a counterpoint.
“[Brown] saw me. I wasn’t looking, he saw me and hit me, and dove after the hit to make it look like he ran into me,” Couture said to CSNBayArea.com on Wednesday. “That’s the way he plays.”
On Thursday, the Kings’ captain responded to Couture’s allegation.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of embellishing going on either side, really. I mean, it’s playoffs,” Brown said. “Considering all the talk of embellishment in [San Jose’s] last series, you’d think it’d be enough of talking about that.”
Brown also offered his thoughts on Galiardi’s comments that Quick had embellished contact.
“We’re not worried about what they’re saying,” Brown said. “I just think it’s kind of ironic that considering the first series they were in they were being accused of that, and now they’re whining about it. Quickie plays hard. I think to some extent they’re crowding his crease. That’s the way the game is now, right? They protect the goalies a lot more than they used to, that’s for sure.”
Of course, considering the two playoff-tested teams are meeting for the second time in the past three seasons, this type of antagonism isn’t particularly surprising.
“Throughout the series, I think it builds up – the hate that you get on each other. It’s part of the game,” Brown said.