The third goal Wednesday night at SAP Center for the Los Angeles Kings not only provided separation early in the third period of an eventual 5-1 victory in Game 7 to push the franchise into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it also provided some symbolism of how the team has changed since winning a championship in 2012.
Tyler Toffoli scored after a slick pass from Tanner Pearson, and the second assist was awarded to Jake Muzzin.
"That's just chemistry I think between Tanner and Tyler that they've built up probably playing in the minor leagues for the last couple years together," captain Dustin Brown said. "Tanner makes a really nice play on that, going wide and finding him. And Ty, that's what Ty is. He gets the puck in a scoring area and it's in the back of the net. That was a big, big goal."
There are four regulars on the Los Angeles roster who were not there two seasons ago when the Kings won the Stanley Cup. One is veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr
, acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames
last season. The other three are the players who combined to create the aforementioned goal.
While Muzzin became a fixture for the Kings last season and is partnered with world-class defenseman Drew Doughty, Toffoli and Pearson have not found it quite so easy to carve out a permanent place on coach Darryl Sutter's lineup card.
They played together on a line with fellow prospect Linden Vey for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League last season, though Toffoli ended up playing in 12 of the Kings' 18 playoff games at the end of the season.
This season, Pearson has been back and forth between Southern California and New Hampshire, but he might not be making that trip again. Pearson joined Toffoli in the lineup after Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks, and on a line flanking center Jeff Carter for Game 4.
Center - LAK
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 16 | +/-: 0
The duo proved some of the chemistry it cultivated in the AHL translated up a level. Toffoli finished the series with three goals, while Pearson had a goal and an assist in Game 7.
After the game Sutter said the play of Toffoli and Pearson allowed him to let Sharks coach Todd McLellan seek out certain line matchups. Basically, Sutter felt more comfortable with his forward depth, and as the series progressed it showed.
Though the San Jose fourth line earned praise in the first two games, it was largely ineffective in the final four games. With Anze Kopitar's line and Mike Richards' line spending a lot of time facing the top two lines of the Sharks, Sutter was able to find fortuitous places to deploy Carter and the kids.
Toffoli and Pearson have added speed, creativity and youthful exuberance to a veteran group. Just as the Sharks had Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto, the Anaheim Ducks are likely to showcase some fine young players in Rickard Rakell and Emerson Etem in this Western Conference Second Round series, which starts Saturday at Honda Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
Los Angeles showed it has a couple of precocious talents up front as well in the opening round of this postseason, and they could continue to be a key part of a potential deep run for the Kings.