LOS ANGELES –
There really should be a name for these furtive moves that Los Angeles Kings
coach Darryl Sutter
makes when it comes to his lineup.
His players are so used it by now that it wasn't really surprising when Sutter switched up his lines for Tuesday's Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, even after they appeared unchanged from Game 2 in the morning skate.
"We knew in the morning," captain Dustin Brown said.
It wasn't evident until pregame warmups that Sutter dropped Anze Kopitar to center the third line with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis. Brown played left wing with Jarret Stoll at center and Justin Williams on right wing for the first time this season, while the Dustin Penner-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli line remained intact.
The result was probably the best period of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by Brown and Carter and a terrific defensive game from Kopitar as the Kings pulled within 2-1 in this best-of-7 series with a 3-1 victory at Staples Center.
The irony is that longtime linemates Brown and Kopitar were struggling mightily until the move.
"Kopi joked he should be up for the Selke [Trophy] because they got him off our line and we score right away," Brown said to induce laughter in his media scrum.
Sutter said he wanted a better matchup at home and "I just thought it was better to put Kopi there."
Los Angeles barely let the Blackhawks play with the puck for the first half of the game. Kopitar's line set the tone on the opening shift when they kept the puck in Chicago's zone, and Stoll's line grabbed a 1-0 lead when Williams created a turnover from Nick Leddy and snapped Slava Voynov's pass from the left side past Corey Crawford.
At that point, Williams had scored four of L.A.'s past six goals. Brown came out with an edge and was credited with four hits. Stoll, slow in his recovery from a concussion in the conference semifinals, had five hits and helped the Kings win 34 of 58 faceoffs.
"Sometimes when you switch lines up and play with different players, you're able to simplify a lot more and play more of a straight-ahead game," Williams said. "We're able to get pucks behind them, and get a lot more offensive zone time than we had in the first two games."
Carter came out possessed and probably could have given L.A. a 3-0 lead if some of his deadly wrist shots were on target. A high stick from Duncan Keith in the second period put an ugly interruption on what was otherwise a terrific night -- and a welcome one, given Carter hasn't given Los Angeles much in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Brown would beg to differ in this round.
"I think he's probably been our most effective player in the series," he said. "He's had really good jump in his legs. His skating ability is pretty evident. The defensemen that they have are pretty mobile and he's getting by them. And that just shows his skating ability.
"Carts is funny. It doesn't look like he's skating fast, and then you realize he's gone."
Sutter looks like he's found something in the Penner-Carter-Toffoli line, which presents size, instinct, smart play on the walls and a different energy to help offset the loss of Mike Richards.
Unless Richards returns, there would be no reason for Sutter to change it up again. But, of course, it wouldn't be surprising. Stoll said the flip of the numbers caught his attention, but he didn't read too much into it.
"Everybody's played with everybody in here, pretty much," Stoll said. I've played with Brownie and Willie before and quite often. Kopi's played with everybody, too. It's just a matter of maybe you get that extra added focus to what you're doing and who you're playing with and more communication too, I think, amongst your lineup. I think that happened tonight. We got some good chemistry from it."