Stanley Cup Final Perspectives
Hockey commentator Darren Pang is assisting the NHL Network in its coverage of the Stanley Cup Final as an analyst. Pang, a former goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks and the current color voice of the St. Louis Blues, is also writing a blog for NHL.com every other day during the Final
In his latest entry, Pang talks about the Kings' mindset heading into Game 6 and highlights a few players on each team that could be key factors Monday night.
It's a mantra we've been repeating during this series and throughout the playoffs, but the key to Game 6 is scoring the first goal. Now that New Jersey has really made this a compelling series, the pressure goes to Los Angeles being on home ice to score the first goal and get the crowd behind you so you can play on your toes and you're not chasing the game.
There's a significant difference in the way these two teams play when they have the lead and when they don't have the lead. When the Devils have the lead, they put the clamps down on you as well. They smother you. Los Angeles has been that way since the beginning of February.
After these two losses, I don't think the Kings' confidence is shaken. I think the belief is still there, but I think when your backs are against the wall and there's a potential of not having a game the next day, you play your best. Los Angeles hasn't had to face that yet because there have been other games. I've rarely seen a team with their backs against the wall not play their best. It brings out the best in you.
I will say for Los Angeles there's a point in the game where you do start pressing and stop playing the way you normally play. It usually comes when you're behind in the game or a bad break goes against you. But they're here because they're the best five-man unit team that I've seen. When the belief gets taken out of you a little bit is when you're trying to do too many things on your own.
So when I see the stuff with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards messing with Martin Brodeur or Jonathan Quick hitting Adam Henrique after a whistle, I think that's just them being down a goal late and trying to do whatever it takes to get back into the game and force OT.
The two players for me who were the best for the Kings in Game 5 were their most experienced playoff performers -- Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll. Williams had complete composure with the puck and made plays. Stoll is a guy who went to Game 7, lost in the seventh game, and you can see he knows how important it is to finish off New Jersey. I thought he played his best game in the playoffs in Game 5 against the Devils.
When I look at guys who need to step up in Game 6, I look at Dustin Brown. I know there's been talk and speculation of an injury, but we see him on the ice all the time and in the locker room talking to the media. He's always one of the last guys and has plenty of time for everybody. If he's really banged up, it doesn't appear he's spending a lot of time in the trainer's room. Brown ignites this team with big hits at big moments, so I would certainly say he needs to step up.
I'd also look to Mike Richards. We've seen this in the past. The reason why he has a reputation as a big-game player is because he has a tremendous hockey sense and a feel for the moment. This is the moment. When you talk about times like this for a hockey team, you have to talk about guys like Richards.
For the Devils, they're probably still looking for quality scoring chances from Ilya Kovalchuk. They got a great performance in Game 5 from Zach Parise. But for me, it's still about the unheralded guys. They're getting a lot from Dainius Zubrus. I thought Alexei Ponikarovsky was good in the last game.
The one guy I'll pick on their side to have a big game who always manages to find some time and space, and that's David Clarkson. He always seems to be able to avoid a check or get a good hit in on the forecheck. When the puck is on his stick, he's an opportunistic person. It doesn't take him very long to make a play or to have a good goal-scoring opportunity.