START ME UP
The Los Angeles Kings return to action at the United Center tonight on the brink of playoff elimination as they look to rebound from a 3-1 series deficit for the second time in team history.
It’s not exactly a stretch to say that the team will be looking for a stronger start on the road in Game 5. In Game 1, the club led 1-0 despite being outshot 17-2 over the first 20 minutes. In Game 2, the Kings carried much of the play early but found themselves down 2-0 after one.
“I think our start’s going to be key for us. Come out and play a little pissed off,” Trevor Lewis said. “I think we’re playing for our season here, because we are. If we do that, the end result should work out itself.”
Drew Doughty articulated Darryl Sutter’s message for Game 5 – and, really, the rest of the playoffs.
“I think for the most part the one message that’s really clear from Darryl is we don’t play hockey all the way until June if we’re not going to win. We’re not here to lose,” Doughty said. “Even though we’re down three-one, we want to win so bad, and we’re determined to come back in this series. It’s going to be tough. There’s no doubt about that. But we believe we can do that, and we didn’t make it this far for nothing.”
Mike Richards took part in his first morning skate since he suffered a concussion late in the third period of Game 1 as he centered a line that included Kyle Clifford to his left and Jordan Nolan to his right.
Sutter indicated that “it’s possible” that Richards would play in Game 5, listing his probability as “50-50.”
“Well, it’s progress,” Sutter said. “I said it last time prior to Game 2 that he was playing, then he didn’t play. We nearly had to make more than one change prior to warmup. I’ll just stay away from it. Follow protocol. Obviously yesterday kind of disrupting everything because of the travel, nobody’s able to do anything. We really are using this morning as if it was yesterday.”
Sutter’s cryptic response isn’t as revealing as his “50-50” comment; expect Richards to take part in warm-ups, and if he still feels comfortable, he’ll be in the lineup. By skating on the fourth line, he won’t step into as many “heavy” minutes and will still be available to see special teams time, should his performance dictate it.
If Richards skates with Clifford and Nolan, Colin Fraser and Brad Richardson would be scratched.
Clifford was tight-lipped about the potential alignment. “You can’t read into anything, and you’ve just got to be ready,” he said.
Anze Kopitar took rushes alongside familiar linemates Dustin Brown and Justin Williams on Saturday after skating for Games 3 and 4 with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis.
Despite being shifted down a pair of lines, Kopitar still logged ice time totals of 21:09 and 21:48 while in Los Angeles and saw over 10 minutes of special teams time between the two games.
Though he has two goals in his last 33 games, Sutter was complementary of the center’s all-around efforts and described the decision to shift Kopitar back to his position alongside Brown and Williams as one motivated by the challenge of playing on the road.
“We don’t get the change we want here. You can’t change on the fly. That’s a big part of it,” Sutter said. “It’s really got nothing to do with Kopi. Kopi has been as good as their best centerman in the series when you look at it. It’s got nothing to do with Kopi.”
Jeff Carter skated alongside Dustin Penner and Tyler Toffoli, while Jarret Stoll returned to his familiar placing alongside Dwight King and Trevor Lewis during this morning’s line rushes.
GAME 7 MENTALITY
Usually it’s the team trying to fight back from a 3-1 series hole that discusses needing to summon its emotional intensity, though Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane described an interesting approach when he likened Game 5 to a winner-take-all elimination game while speaking with reporters at the United Center
“It’s a huge game,” said Kane, as reported by Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. “We have an opportunity here at home. You don’t want to give them any momentum to feel like they’re back in the series and going back on their home ice where they’ve been great all playoffs. We’re treating it like it’s a Game 7 mentality and you have to win. That’s the way you have to go about these games. I’m sure the crowd will be rocking. People will be fired up in Chicago. It should be an exciting game.”
Joel Quenneville communicated his own impression on Kane’s comments and the team’s outlook heading into a game that the Blackhawks hope will send them to their second Stanley Cup Final in four seasons.
“I think it’s an important game for us,” Quenneville said. “I think we want to make sure we establish a good start here and try to dictate pace and try to play with the tempo we had in three of the four games. Can’t look any further forward than today’s game where we want to play our best.”