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Kings Fight for Teammates, Fans

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Going into the first of what feels like a critical three-game mini-series against Anaheim, the Kings will be without winger Kyle Clifford. The Kings hope his absence is brief.

Clifford had to leave Thursday night’s game late in the first period after his fight with St. Louis’ Ryan Reaves, in which Clifford took a punch square to the face and fell to the ice.

Clifford got up immediately and skated off the ice under his own power but did not return and is officially listed with an ``upper-body injury.’’ Terry Murray said the Kings would be cautious with Clifford, no doubt mindful of new, more stringent guidelines -- put in place this week -- for dealing with players who show symptoms of concussion.

Kyle Clifford sends Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn flying in a game ten days ago.  Clifford, a rookie, has been praised for his physicality.
``When our trainer came and said that he would not come back -- I found out at the end of the first period that he had an upper-body injury and that he would not be back -- certainly you think about it then,’’ Murray said after Friday’s practice.

``It's the right thing. You can't mess around with those head injuries. You've got a (20)-year-old young guy who's going to be around here for 15, 20 years. You want to make sure that he's going to get there. You've got to do the right thing, and the right thing is to back off and make sure everything is right before he plays again.’’

Clifford, a 20-year-old rookie, has been a lineup regular since late October and, of late, had settled into a role as a fourth-line winger and a ``middleweight’’ physical presence. Clifford has five goals and six assists in 67 games this season.

Brad Richardson is scheduled to return to the Kings’ lineup in Clifford’s place and play the fourth-line left-wing role, alongside Trevor Lewis and Kevin Westgarth.

Westgarth also got into a fight -- with Cam Janssen -- last night, and Murray had praise for both Clifford and Westgarth for their willingness to drop gloves and try to inspire teammates who didn’t seem to have much fire throughout their 4-0 loss to the Blues.

``I thought it was great, I really do,’’ Murray said. ``I think that was absolutely what the team needed. We didn't respond the right way. It was what we needed, though. When you go back in, after a long road trip like that, you need a player to really take on some of that responsibility to fire up the team and say, `Hey, we're here to play and we're here to compete.' He did the right thing, and so did Clifford.

``He responds the right way, to get us going. These are rookie players. Westgarth is a young guy, a rookie, and Cliffy is (20) years old. He recognized the need for something to spark a fire here, and he tried to do the right thing.’’

Head Coach Terry Murray was frustrated from the outset of the game yesterday.
After Thursday night’s game, Murray went out of his way to express his disappointment and frustration that the Kings had been booed off the ice, by a segment of the STAPLES Center fans, after the second period, when they faced a 2-0 deficit.

Murray referred to the fan reaction as ``the most embarrassing thing I have ever been through,’’ but then, given a day to reflect, chose to soften his tone a bit.

 ``I was very upset about how things went last night, with the way we played, right from the start of the game,’’ Murray said. ``The turnovers, being outbattled along the boards, dot to boards, giving up the great scoring chances we did. Our power play, right at the start we have an opportunity do something and we don't. We turn the puck over, we got offside on it right at the start. There's just a lot of things that were frustrating. And obviously the fact that we had six shots at the end of the second period was glaring at me the whole game. Then to give up that late goal, it was a reaction by a very frustrated coach. It's just disappointing. That's the last thing you want to hear, going into the dressing room. You're trying to find a way to start a fire there, to get a good 20 minutes of hockey, and that's what you go into the room with. You're remembering that, probably as much as anything that has happened in the game. So I was frustrated.

``Look, I've said this many times. We've got great fans here. I know that. They mean a lot to this hockey club. They've brought a lot of energy and a lot of emotions to our games and helped us through a lot of difficult times. The atmosphere in our building, from the middle of the year last year, right through the playoffs, has been incredible because of the fans. I overreacted, probably. You don't want to drag them into the reason why, but I did. There's nothing I can do about it now. It's never the right thing to throw stuff at your fans. I know that. It was a night to forget.''

Drew Doughty commented on getting booed by the fans yesterday and also about the support the team gets when playing their SoCal rivals, the Anaheim Ducks.
Drew Doughty was also asked for his reaction to the fan booing.

``Booing us kind of (upsets me) as a player,’’ Doughty said, ``because every night we're out there playing our hardest, obviously for the team but, at the same time, for them. For them to boo us off the ice, or whatever the case is, like I said we're not just playing for us, we're playing for them. We're going to battle for them, and for them to boo us shows a lack of respect from them, but it's a part of the game. Fans boo their teams all the time, so it's nothing we can be really upset at.''

The Kings have 11 games remaining in their regular season, and three are against the rival Anaheim Ducks, starting with Saturday night’s game at STAPLES Center.

The Kings will enter the game in fifth place in the Western Conference, just four points ahead of the 10th-place Ducks, and the results of those three games could go a long way toward determining the playoff fates of both teams. The Kings and Ducks have never made the playoffs in the same season.

``It's going to be fun,’’ Doughty said. ``It's only that 45-minute drive between us. Every time we play Anaheim, the stands are packed and the fans are always kind of half and half. Whenever we play there, it's half our fans and half theirs, and same when they come here. So it's a good atmosphere and it's a rivalry that's been going on forever, so to have those battles, those three games, they're going to be real playoff-like games.’’

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