EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – There are few secrets to unearth by the time a series gets to Game 6. All the storylines have played out and it’s one or two plays that make the difference.
But the Los Angeles Kings have not been able to make that play go their way at HP Pavilion for quite some time. They last won there against the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinal series, which they lost. Including the Stanley Cup Playoffs, L.A. is 0-4-3 in its past seven games in San Jose.
Captain Dustin Brown and teammates intend to change that and close out the semifinals against the Sharks in Game 6 on Sunday night.
“We’re preparing to go up there and win,” Brown said. “We don’t want to go up there and steal a game. We want to go up there and win a game. Your game plan doesn’t change, it’s just a mentality to go into a tough building and get the job done. There’s a difference between knowing you’re going to win and hoping you’re going to win and we got to go up there knowing we’re to win.”
The Kings came tantalizingly close in Games 3 and 4, both 2-1 losses. In fact, their last five postseason losses have been by 2-1 scores.
“It’s not that easy,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “How do you change that? It’s like fixing a hole in your boat. … We lost two in their place. If we would have won two in overtime, you wouldn’t have been saying that. That’s how close they are. There’s not much difference.”
A closer look suggests that the Kings need to stem San Jose’s power play in order to come out victorious in the Shark Tank. Three of San Jose’s four goals scored in Games 3 and 4 came on the power play.
While the Kings have been a perfect 10 for 10 on the penalty kill in three home games of the series, they are 6-for-9 on the road. San Jose’s first power play unit of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle have accounted for all 10 of the Sharks’ power-play goals in the postseason.
That unit has been together for years and San Jose coach Todd McLellan acknowledged that the second unit is a bit of a work in progress. So the obvious key is getting the Thornton unit off the ice in the first 30-40 seconds.
“You know they’re going to get chances,” Kings center Mike Richards said. “They have a power play that’s been together for a long time, so they’re obviously comfortable with each other. Just taking away their time and space I think is the biggest thing. But you know they’re going to get opportunities and you just want to limit them and not give them those Grade-A scoring chances from the in the middle, and if you can push things to the outside it’s obviously better, but it’s still dangerous.”
Trevor Lewis credited assistant coach John Stevens for directing the Kings’ penalty-killing unit, which has returned Matt Greene, who played 2:42 minutes shorthanded in Game 5. Of course, it also helps to have Jonathan Quick smothering every puck near him.
Quick hasn't been available much at practice lately, but he responded Saturday to accusations by T.J. Galiardi that Quick embellishes contact in the crease.
“To be honest, we don’t care too much what T.J. Galiardi has to say, but that’s freedom of speech, right?” Quick said. “You can say what you want.”
Sutter stuck with the new line combinations, with Kyle Clifford taking Brown’s place on the top line and Brown on the third line. It’s intended to move around the minutes for the wings.
Clifford logged a playoff-high 15:20 minutes in Game 5. Dwight King played a playoff-low 11:43 and Tyler Toffoli a season-low 7:01. Only center Anze Kopitar played more than 20 minutes out of L.A.’s forwards.
Following a bunched 48-game regular season, this is a much busier postseason for L.A. It will play its 12th game. Last season, the Kings rolled to the Stanley Cup in 20 games.
“This time of year, that’s probably a good thing,” Brown said of the re-arrangement. “My minutes were down. Some guys were up. At the end of the day, if it keeps us fresher, then being able to roll lines over like we did in Game 5, I think that’s a good thing.”
“It is what it is,” Sutter said. “He’s got a brain injury. Can’t play. We play with every other injury because you’re hurt but you can’t play with [that]. Very simple.”
Here is the Kings’ projected lineup for Game 6: