Kings, minus Mike Richards for Game 3, need more help from supporting cast
From Jarret Stoll to Anze Kopitar to Jonathan Quick to others, L.A. must step up as time ticks down on Stanley Cup title defence
LOS ANGELES — If it seems as though too much focus is being placed on the health of one player, it’s only because that player is Mike Richards.
And the Los Angeles Kings would not be defending a title, and three rounds deep into this year’s Stanley Cup chase, without him.
It would be like subtracting Jonathan Toews from the Chicago lineup, except the Blackhawks have a deeper supporting cast of offensive players.
Facing the first of several must-wins against the red-hot Hawks, who led the Western Conference final two games to none heading into Tuesday night’s game at Staples Center (6 p.m. Pacific time, TSN), the Kings have had plenty of time now to contemplate the enormity of trying to come back without their best player in the lineup.
The clearly concussed 28-year-old centre didn’t play in Game 2, either, but did take the pre-game warmup Sunday and wasn’t scratched until the very last moment, so his teammates had to adapt on the fly.
This time, head coach Darryl Sutter declared him out after Tuesday's morning skate, in which Richards didn’t participate. It’s fair to assume he has regressed since Sunday, meaning the effects of the hit he took from Chicago’s David Bolland late in Game 1 were slow to reveal themselves.
“He’s done a little bit every day but it’s the same: no progress,” Sutter said.
“If it was just about Mike Richards making the decision, Mike Richards is playing tonight. You got guys who want to play, you got guys who don’t want to play. Mike Richards wants to play.”
The Kings adjusted in Game 2 by moving winger Jeff Carter — who began his career as a centre — into Richards’ spot at the last second, and activating rookie Tyler Toffoli to play the opposite wing from Dustin Penner.
It was L.A.’s best line Sunday, when both Carter and Toffoli scored, though not until the Blackhawks had virtually salted the game away with a 4-0 lead.
That line remained intact for Game 3, but the loss of Richards — whose presence is felt in every aspect of the game from faceoffs to defensive matchups to power play and penalty killing and just general sound play with and without the puck — could well be a killer, as the Kings attempted to lean on their 7-0 home record to get them back in the series.
“Home or away isn’t the issue here,” said centre Jarret Stoll, who only returned in Game 1 after two weeks’ recovery time from his own concussion, suffered on a Raffi Torres hit in the opener of the Kings-San Jose series.
“The issue is playing the right way, not giving up quality scoring chances, bearing down on our opportunities, generating more opportunities, a lot of things. We gotta win a game. I don’t care how we do it, we gotta win a game, that’s it.”
Stoll knows what Richards is going through, struggling with “symptoms” — which as close as the Kings have come to admitting that it’s a concussion — but said: “It’s just one of those things. It’s tough, we definitely miss him, but we’ve got to have guys that step up and play better when someone’s out. When I was out, when Greener (defenceman Matt Greene) was out, the guys had to do it. We have to do it now.
“You’re not a good team unless you’re doing those things, and we’re still playing, so I think we’re a pretty good team. We gotta battle through it.”
Normally, an injured player is out of sight, out of mind, but Richards is not so easy to dismiss from the Kings’ consciousness.
“Losing Stolly was a big loss and now Mike …Mike’s more offensive, plays on the first unit of the power play and all the PKs, good faceoff guy, obviously a leader,” said fourth-liner Colin Fraser.
“He’s played a lot of playoff games, and he’s the kind of guy that plays bigger in big games. He’s a huge loss. It’s one of those adversity things this year we didn’t have to face last year.”
Sutter said Stoll has struggled to regain his form since coming back, too — another less-than-perfect piece of the Kings’ growing puzzle at centre.
"I think, you know him, he's disappointed in himself more than I was in him,” said the coach. “He's coming back from a concussion, bottom line. He was pretty much knocked out on his feet. To come back in and be 100 per cent confident, I don't think it's that easy. He expects a lot of himself and I think he'll do a lot better tonight."
The Kings not only needed more from him, but from first-line centre Anze Kopitar, too, in Richards’ absence. He has been a virtual non-entity in the series, and has only two goals and seven points in 15 playoff games.
Richards led all Kings scorers with 10 points when he was clocked by Bolland.
But equally, they needed a big bounce-back game from goalie Jonathan Quick, who surrendered four goals by the midway point of Game 2, and was pulled by Sutter to rest up for Game 3.
"There's been enough talk about Jonathan Quick this season,” Sutter said. “We need a big game out of him. You're not going to give up four goals and beat Chicago."
“He’s a pretty focused guy, pretty narrow-mindset kind of guy, so yeah, we expect his best tonight,” said Stoll. “But we’ve got to be better in front of him. It’s no secret, you can’t rely on your goaltender as much as we have. How about make their guy (Corey Crawford) work a little bit harder in their net? He’s made some good saves, he’s played OK, but we gotta make him work a lot harder.”
Ominously, the Kings, who went 16-4 en route to the Stanley Cup a year ago, had already lost seven games heading into Tuesday night, more than any eventual Cup champion has ever lost in the first three rounds.
Of course, all seven have been on the road.
“We know there’s firsts for everything,” said Stoll. “That stat means nothing to us.”
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L.A. Kings centre Mike Richards (right) is on the receiving end of a hard hit into the boards from Dave Bolland of the Chicago Blackhawks during Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference Final at the United Center in Chicago on June 1, 2013.
Photograph by: Bill Smith, NHLI via Getty Images