CHICAGO – The Los Angeles Kings lost their first two games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road against the St. Louis Blues, but still won that Western Conference Quarterfinals series in six games.
After dropping Game 1 of the Western Conference Final in a 2-1 loss against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night at United Center, the defending Stanley Cup champions are again faced with a possible 0-2 hole should they lose the second half of back-to-back contests in Game 2 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
Don’t, however, ask Kings coach Darryl Sutter if his team’s first-round experience might be something to draw confidence from if they’re flying home again down two games to none.
“I don't think confidence is an issue for us, ever,” Sutter said bluntly on Sunday afternoon. “I have yet to see it in 17 months or whatever it is. It's kind of a funny question to ask when you're in the conference finals, if the team is confident.”
That’s actually not what was asked, but the answer gave a possible glimpse into the Kings’ mood heading into Game 2. Sutter was also asked about top center Mike Richards, who was hit hard late in Game 1 by Blackhawks center Dave Bolland and appeared a little shaken as he skated to the bench.
“He’s fine,” Sutter said, when asked about Richards’ condition. “I’ve got nothing more to say about it. It’s really a non-issue.”
More of an issue, at least to Sutter, is the way his team takes care of the puck – especially in the neutral zone. That’s where Game 1 really started to slip away from the Kings, despite being outshot 17-2 in the first. Most of those shots in the opening period came from the outside, with no Blackhawks actively screening goalie Jonathan Quick, but that changed quickly in the second.
The Blackhawks started forcing turnovers in the neutral zone and turning them into good scoring chances.
We were actually pretty good. We just turned pucks over in the neutral [zone], guys forcing the issue a little bit in the neutral zone and you can’t do that,” Sutter said. “It allows [Chicago’s] defense to … get up and play and they’re taking a lot of shots – which is the game plan of everybody when they play Jonathan Quick. Obviously they’re going to shoot the puck from everywhere, so I’ve got no problem with all [those] shots from the outside, but not odd-man ones or ones that come off of turnovers.”
The Kings are also looking to step up their physicality.
Los Angeles power forward Dustin Penner said on Sunday afternoon that Bolland’s hit on Richards – and a subsequent hit by Kings captain Dustin Brown on Chicago captain Jonathan Toews – might bring more dislike into the series.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “I think we got to bring more physicality to the game than we did last time. They were on the perimeter passing pucks around. Got to go through more of their players more often, make it tougher on them.”