RICHARDS RULED OUT
Darryl Sutter ruled Mike Richards out of Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks at Tuesday’s morning skate. Richards, who did not play in Game 2 and continues to experience concussion-type symptoms from a jarring, unpenalized hit by Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland behind the Chicago net in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, is in the process of trying to work his way back into the lineup.
“He’s done a little bit every day, but it’s the same – you know the progress of it,” Sutter said. When Jarret Stoll suffered a concussion in Game 1 of the San Jose series on May 14, he did not play again for the remainder of the series, which ended on May 28.
When Richards suffered a concussion following a high hit by Florida’s Sean Bergenheim in a game at Staples Center on December 1, 2011, he missed eight games and did not return to the lineup until December 22 – Darryl Sutter’s first game as head coach.
Of course, there is no linear process of recovering from a concussion. Precedent means little when it comes to brain injuries, and Richards’ hyper-competitiveness will have to take a back seat to following the proper protocol and ensuring that the player’s health is the highest priority.
“If it was just about Mike Richards making the decision, Mike Richards is playing tonight,” Sutter said. “You’ve got guys that don’t want to play, and you’ve got guys that do want to play. Mike Richards is a guy that wants to play.”
Though Richards’ competitiveness and playmaking ability will be missed, the Kings should be well-equipped to make the most of an challenging situation.
Tyler Toffoli will remain in the lineup after recording two points in Game 2 and will skate opposite Dustin Penner on a line centered by Jeff Carter, a player who has seen ample time as a center both this year and in his NHL career and was effective in the faceoff dot in Game 2, winning 11-of-15 draws.
As it has been many times this year, the word “interchangeable” was used to describe Richards and Carter, both of whom regularly took faceoffs on their strong side when skating together.
“We’re fortunate that Jeff can play center. Otherwise, we’d be in a real spot,” Sutter said. “It’s not ‘moving’ or ‘what Tyler brings to that line.’ It’s being able to have a top guy move from wing to the center position.”
The adjustment is one that the club feels completely confident with, according to Anze Kopitar.
“Jeff is a strong skater, so that definitely helps him being in the middle and having a little bit more of a free range. Tyler is great with making plays off the walls and cutting inside and shooting the puck. So it’s a good combo,” he said.
“We still have to play the same way. Do we miss Mike? Of course. He’s one of the best players at this time of the year, and he’s a big asset on our power play and our penalty kill, faceoffs – you name it. We definitely miss him, but we can’t look for him now. We know he’s not going to be going, and we’ve just got to do it with what we’ve got.”
BOUNCE BACK QUICK
Jonathan Quick was unable to make it through Game 2 after allowing four goals on 17 shots in 29 minutes and 20 seconds. It was the first time he was pulled from a game since a 4-3 loss in San Jose on March 14.
Though it was his poorest performance of the postseason, the team did not make it particularly easy for him, according to his teammates.
“They had way too many good, quality scoring chances, I think,” Jarret Stoll said. “Two-on-ones, partial breakaways, stuff like that. D-men walking down the slot. Their D-men are very active. We’ve got to make sure we take them away on the rush and in the zone and be harder on their forwards. Pinpoint a couple of their forwards, be a lot harder on them. We know they’ve got a lot of depth over there, but we’ve got to step up.”
The numbers are somewhat ambivalent and come with an asterisk, though Quick was 4-1 in performances that followed him allowing four goals in the regular season. One win was earned in relief, while the loss to San Jose referenced above garnered a no-decision as Jonathan Bernier surrendered the game-winner. Overall, he posted an .890 save percentage in outings that followed games in which he allowed four goals.
His focus and ability to compete – along with his natural goaltending ability – have allowed him to maintain a .943 save percentage over the last two postseasons.
“Yeah, he’s a great competitor,” Anze Kopitar said. “That’s what you want out of your guys, out of your goalie, whatever the case may be. We have all the confidence in him that he’s going to do it again.”
Darryl Sutter might as well have been channeling his inner Elvis Presley, judging from his press conference credo. A little less conversation, a little more action is needed in Game 3.
“There’s been enough talk about Jonathan Quick this year,” Sutter said. “We need a big game out of him. We need great goaltending to beat Chicago, and we can’t allow four goals and think we’re going to beat Chicago.”