If the Los Angeles Kings are returning to the scene of the crime, the statute of limitations for prosecuting their Game 7 double overtime thievery has long since passed.
“We’ve played Chicago twice this year,” Darryl Sutter said. “They kicked our ass the first game, 4-1, and we had a really strong game the first game after the All-Star Break, so coming back here is not relevant.”
On Wednesday, 10 months will have passed since Los Angeles escaped from Chicago with an incredibly narrow Game 7 victory after a three-games-to-one series lead evolved into a one-game series between a pair of teams that have combined to win the last three Stanley Cups. Both Sutter and Tyler Toffoli acknowledged that the elapsed time has healed any and all wounds.
“It was a really fun series and obviously when you win, it makes it more fun than other series,” Toffoli said. “You look back and you think of what we did, but at this time of the season you have to forget about it, and we’ve got to be ready to play tonight.”
With the slimmest margin for error, the Kings can’t afford not to be ready. They’ll face a Blackhawks team that returned from Winnipeg with a win in the first of back-to-back games against heavy opponents and has a tendency to offer an elevated performance when Los Angeles visits. Though the Kings won twice at the United Center last spring, they’ve dropped consecutive road games in the series and haven’t won on Madison Street in the regular season since the day before they met the President – the first time.
Tyler Toffoli scored the game-tying goal in that game, a 5-4 come-from-behind win on March 25, 2013. Chicago seems to be his kind of town.
Toffoli, who was brilliant along with Tanner Pearson and Jeff Carter in last season’s Western Conference Final, has eight goals and 15 points in 17 career regular season and playoff games against the Blackhawks and has pushed play along at the pace of a 57.0% raw Corsi rating in those games.
“I think it’s just always fun playing against them. They’re a great team,” he said. “When you come in, especially when you come in here, you have to bring your best and it’s always a good feeling to come out of here with a win.”
In the overall picture, Toffoli has had a productive third National Hockey League season in which he has been able to build on last spring’s playoff success. With 22 goals, 44 points – including a league-leading five shorthanded goals and six points – and a plus-22 rating, he has been able to grow into most situations and solidify the balance in Los Angeles’ attack. As with any young player, though, there are going to challenges.
“I think he’s had a lot of highs and lows in his season, if you look at it,” Sutter said. “He had such a really good start, but then once we got on the road and they were hot – that line – then they drew a lot more attention. So they drew a lot of the checking or the top line, and hey, he’s a young player and it really affected him. I think that he just got going again before Christmas, and then he had the mono, which set him back again. I think that even though he’s continued to score, there’s been parts of his game – I mean, if you even look at the last game, it was two-one, and he takes a penalty in the offensive zone in front of the other [net]. You can’t do that. It ends up three-one. You can’t do that, and you’ve still got a lot of work to do to be a good player in this league.”
There was also the boarding major in the loss to Vancouver that preceded the road trip, though those moments have not at all come to define his season by any measure. By and large, the highly skilled 22-year-old has etched out the type of season that has only underlined the success expected of him, though as Sutter referenced in his evaluation, there is still ample nuance.
“He played a lot of playoff games last year and played really well for us, so that’s a big step,” Sutter said. “I don’t care – kids, young guys who don’t play playoff games, I bet it’s a two-or-three-more-year thing if they don’t play playoff games in that time. Hey, he’s got such good hockey sense. I said it, he’s a good player who can only get better if he applies the whole package – not over the summer, but every day – to be consistent. You have to be consistent every day, you have to have great work habits on the ice, and you have to have great preparation skills. You have to take care of yourself, and I think those are all areas where he should grow.”
Tyler Toffoli, on returning to the United Center:
I think we’re excited. I think it’s a huge game for us right now and we’re both fighting for a playoff spot and it’s going to be a good game tonight.
Toffoli, on his line’s performance on the road trip.
I think we’ve been good. I think myself, personally, I’ve had chances that should be scoring. A couple tough breaks, but we’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to get those dirty goals and keep getting the puck to the net and doing whatever it takes to win games.
Toffoli, on whether he’s seeing his deflected shot in Minnesota in his sleep:
Yeah, it was just a bad break. [Reporter: Yeah, it was incredibly lucky.] Yeah, I think it just kind of hit him and hopefully tonight I can make up for it.
Toffoli, on whether tonight’s match-up is between top Western Conference teams:
I think every team feels that they’re one of the best teams in the league. I think it’s no different for us and Chicago. We both feel that we’re both really good teams and obviously we’re not, like you said, high in the standings but we’re both really good and it’s always fun playing against each other.
Toffoli, on the match-up between Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews:
They’re two of the best centermen in the league and they always have good battles. Kopi is a really exciting player to watch and it’s going to be good tonight for us.
Toffoli, on how much Andrej Sekera is helping the team:
Oh, he’s such an incredible player. He brings so much skill and patience with the puck and he’s been huge for us ever since we got him.
Toffoli, on whether he expects Chicago to play differently without Patrick Kane:
I think they obviously lose a lot of skill, but they’ve got Vermette in there now. They’ve got such a skilled team and they bring it every night, so we’ve got to be ready to play.