It was a Tyler Toffoli goal that both opened the scoring and served as the game winner in Saturday’s 3-0 Los Angeles win at San Jose.
“I took a quick look over my shoulder after I saw the D catching up to me, and I knew he was there, so I just tried to lay it out there for him to skate into it, and he pulled a little toe drag and put it in the net,” Tanner Pearson said.
Pearson “knew” that Toffoli would be there. And Toffoli “knew” that Pearson would win a footrace.
“I knew Pears was going to get to that puck,” he said. “The other four guys were changing, so I kind of figured that I could jump in there, and they wouldn’t really see me, so Pears threw it over to me, and I just made a move to cut to the middle a little bit, and shot it.”
Both rookies made their playoff debuts a year ago, with Toffoli occupying a more significant postseason role than Pearson, who drew into one game. After developing chemistry while flanking Jeff Carter late in the season, the three have been a part of the Kings’ ability to draw back into the series after reuniting for Game 4.
Is there any surprise that at this point of the season Carter finds himself skating with a pair of players with birthdays in the early 1990’s?
“It doesn’t raise my eyebrows at all,” Carter said. “I think those guys have earned their way onto the team with their play. When they’re out there and they’re on their game, you can see what they can do. I thought they were both great last night – using their speed, getting on pucks, and when they have the puck, they’re pretty dangerous. For myself, it’s exciting to play with them, because they bring a lot of energy to the game and pull me around the ice.”
Carter has been very good in this series, which doesn’t come as any surprise at all. He has been a postseason constant for Los Angeles, having recorded points in nine straight playoff games (3-7=10), dating back to Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference Final. Pearson’s assist on Toffoli’s goal was his first postseason point, while Toffoli has points in three straight games (2-2=4) and has put six shots on net over the last two games despite posting modest ice times of 10:22 and 10:44.
“First off, the opponent we’re playing is using two young forwards too, a lot, in Hertl and Nieto. A lot,” Darryl Sutter said. “So, you know what? It’s a little bit of ‘You’re seeing them do it, you do it.” It is about performance. They didn’t play any more last night. By position, I think our right wingers – Brownie, Willie, Lewie and Tyler – were probably pretty even. They were probably 10-to-14 minutes or whatever, and if you’re looking at the other side, with the left side, I think they were all in the mid-teens, and Tanner was probably just under it. You know what? This series was set up differently because you had the four days before you started, and then you had the two between. So in the first part of the series you’re probably using guys more than you normally would, so then as the series goes you, you’re playing every other day, and you’ve got guys who are banged up and they’re basically recovering, and you need to get something out of those guys.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Tanner or Tyler, or if they’re 20 or 30. I couldn’t care less. If they don’t perform – hey, we’re trying to win, not look good. Tyler Toffoli’s been a good player all year. I think the cap didn’t allow those players to be here at the start of the season, and they went down in the right frame of mind, and Tyler was the guy that was clearly ahead of everybody, and he still clearly is. He still maximizes his skill set, which is what you’re trying to do with everybody. 95% of the time is when he does. He’s the reason that we’re not not playing. Hes played really well. The right wing position over the first part of the series, he’s been our best right winger, that’s for sure.”
There were questions raised earlier in the year over Toffoli’s suitability towards the 200-foot game required against “heavier” National Hockey League teams.
“If you’re playing the Boston Bruins tomorrow, and you’re a right winger like Tyler Toffoli, and Jarome’s coming down the wall on you, can you protect the puck, or can you not protect it? Can you make a play there? Do you know he’s going to thump you? Stuff like that,” Sutter said on January 19.
It’s an aspect of the game that the forward has shown improvement in, and it was represented well in Toffoli’s recent performances against San Jose.
“Playoffs are more and more about there’s a little bit of physicality involved, and you’ve got to be able to make plays in traffic, and he’s shown that he can do that,” Sutter said Sunday. “You don’t have to do that in the form of taking penalties or anything like that. Just do it in the form of maybe you’ve got to get knocked down to hang on to the puck or get knocked down to try and get it back. If you’re willing to do that, then you can have some success as an individual.”