EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - If there is a comeback in the offing for the Los Angeles Kings, it pretty clearly is going to have to start with the wounded-bear effect.
Down 2-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks, admittedly tired, admittedly beat up, and pondering the possibility that their most vital forward, Mike Richards, might not be able to answer the bell for Game 3 tonight at Staples Center, the Kings’ possible sources of hope are down to a small handful:
* Jonathan Quick, having been yanked from Game 2 after giving up four goals in under 30 minutes, is bound to be even grumpier than usual, so perhaps he will have one of those superhuman bounce-back nights;
* Home ice, where the Kings are 7-0 this playoff season, might be the cure they need, at a time when a loss will effectively finish them;
* They came back from an 0-2 start on the road to win their first-round series with St. Louis in six games, so reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated before;
* Anze Kopitar is bound to start playing like a No. 1 centre sometime;
* The Kings didn’t get to be Stanley Cup champions a year ago without having to show plenty of pluck and mettle, and the core of that team is still here.
These may not seem like much in the way of ammo, next to the boatload of positives the Blackhawks -- seemingly firing on all cylinders, 5-0 since they were on the brink of elimination by the Detroit Red Wings -- bring into town.
But they are all they home side has.
And the Kings weren’t sugar-coating it Monday at their Toyota Sports Center training facility in El Segundo, where they looked at video but basically used the day to try to recharge their dangerously drained batteries.
“We have five games in 10 days coming up. It's taxing on the guys. For sure it is,” head coach Darryl Sutter said, as close to an admission of vulnerability as the doughty farmer is ever likely to utter.
“We chose to (fly) home last night. By the time you shut ‘er down, it’s 2:30 in the morning. Today you're just trying to get (the tanks) close to full again. It's hard.”
“I think it’s fair to say we’re probably not as fresh as we were last year,” said captain Dustin Brown. “We had 4-5 days off in every series (last year). We hadn’t played this many games at this time last year.
“But at this time of year when you’re going through it, you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, I’m tired.’ You’re just re-loading and getting ready to go again. It’s more getting your head wrapped around it mentally than it is physical, I think.”
But the physical part is killing them, too.
Up against a Blackhawks squad that has four fast lines, all of them with scoring punch, the Kings look to the naked eye like a team feeling the accumulated effects of being banged around from the moment the playoffs opened -- the St. Louis series was like a 10-car pileup every shift, then they went a tough seven against San Jose -- and the wheels are starting to fall off.
Losing Richards for any length of time, and you have to suppose the team’s leading playoff scorer with 10 points is not rushing back from symptoms of a concussion, is merely the exclamation point.
“It’s not like Mike Richards is just a spot in your lineup, he’s a significant part of everything,” Sutter said. “He’s a significant part if you’re into match-ups, if you’re into face-offs, if you’re into power play, if you’re into penalty killing, if you’re in the first minute and the last minute. It moves everyone around a little bit… but you’re not replacing that player.”
Jeff Carter moved from the wing to centre to fill in for Richards on a line with Dustin Penner and rookie Tyler Toffoli, and did a credible job. And the Kings will need more of that tonight, and a lot more from the line of Kopitar, Brown and Justin Williams.
“They’ve struggled offensively, for sure,” Sutter said. “That's not me jumping out making a statement. That is a statistical fact.”
It’s more than just one line, of course. The team is averaging 1.9 goals per game, nearly a full goal under last spring’s output.
“We’re certainly not making it easy on ourselves, right?” said forward Colin Fraser. “But you’ve got to find a way to dig in. Whether you’re tired or not, you really don’t have a choice. It’s adversity. I think adversity can be a good thing sometimes if you can get through it.”
“Last year is last year,” Williams said of the Kings’ practically injury-free, 16-4 Cup run. “A lot of good components that go into a Stanley Cup-winning team. The first one is being a healthy team.
“But good teams find ways to win through adversity and build through that. We were able to win without Jarret Stoll for a large chunk of the San Jose series. We were able to win, got him back. We're nursing injuries just like everyone else is.
“If we get Mike back, whenever that may be ... I don't know, we're going to need to hold the fort until then.”
That does seem to be the way of things: holding the fort. The Blackhawks create, the Kings try to blunt, forestall, limit the damage.
It’s a tall order, asking a battle-weary team to reverse that pattern without its most complete player. But Sutter is asking it, nonetheless.
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