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Fantastic finish for Kings' tandem of Toffoli, Pearson

by Mike G. Morreale

There was a time not too long ago when Los Angeles Kings forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson snarled at one another as opponents in the Ontario Hockey League.

On Friday night, the two rookies got the chance to raise the Stanley Cup on the ice at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The Kings defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in double overtime in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to win the best-of-7 series. Toffoli got the primary assist on Alec Martinez's Cup-winning goal.

It was a run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs the rookie tandem will never forget.

"If someone told me this was the way my career would go, I would have taken it in a heartbeat," Pearson said prior to Game 4 of the Cup Final.

Pearson was in junior B in 2009-10, had a pedestrian season with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League the following season, and was passed over in the 2010 and 2011 drafts. He had a breakout 2011-12 for Barrie, and the Kings selected him No. 30 in the 2012 NHL Draft, 11 days after Los Angeles became the first organization in League history to win the Stanley Cup as the eighth seed.

While it was a delayed entry to the NHL for Pearson, he did have a bit of an early connection to the Kings. On his NHL Central Scouting questionnaire, filled out early in the 2011-12 season, he listed Kings teammate Mike Richards as the NHL player to whom he most likely would be compared.

Toffoli, who made his mark with the Ottawa 67's for four seasons, was selected by the Kings in the second round (No. 47) of the 2010 draft. On his Central Scouting questionnaire in his draft year, Toffoli listed New York Rangers right wing Rick Nash as his favorite NHL player.

Pearson and Toffoli each played key roles for their OHL teams and faced off a few times in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. They made a bigger impact together for the Kings.

"It has been a crazy couple of years for me," Pearson said. "First being drafted after the wait, playing that one game in the playoffs [in 2013] for the Kings, and then getting a chance to play this year and win the Stanley Cup."

Pearson made his Kings debut May 18, 2013, playing right wing on the fourth line in a playoff game against the San Jose Sharks, a 2-1 overtime loss.

Before joining the Kings this season, Toffoli and Pearson were teammates in the American Hockey League for the Manchester Monarchs in 2012-13.

"I think the Kings [organization] knew what I was capable of and they had the confidence in me at the next level," Pearson said. "I had a lot of confidence in my second year [in Barrie] and was able to transfer it over to the pro level. It took me a while to find it in the NHL, but I think I found the groove."

Toffoli and Pearson raised their games when Kings coach Darryl Sutter placed them on the wings with veteran center Jeff Carter in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a line that has been dubbed "That 70s Line" due to all three wearing jerseys with numbers in the 70s. Toffoli led all rookies in the playoffs in goals (seven) and points (14); Pearson was second in points (12) and first in plus/minus rating (plus-10).

Carter didn't do too bad skating between them, totaling 10 goals and 25 points.

How much did having a veteran like Carter mean to Toffoli and Pearson?

"I think a lot," Sutter said. "Jeff Carter is a top player in the National Hockey League. Anytime you get to play with a top player, either you elevate your game or you don't play with them."

Pearson agreed.

"Playing with [Carter] is pretty easy," he said. "He's a pure goal-scorer. All we need to do is get him the puck and let him do his thing. We just kind of use our speed and skill assets to our edge."

Kings left wing Dwight King said Pearson and Toffoli not only paid their dues, but were being rewarded for jobs well done this season.

"They played extremely well and chipped in with offense and defense in pretty much every category," he said. "When you have guys like that with fresh, fast legs who have been able to put the puck in the net for us, it's huge."

Pearson was recalled from Manchester on three separate occasions in 2013-14, all the while never wavering in his desire to get better. He finished the regular season with three goals and seven points in 25 games.

Toffoli's totals in the playoffs set the franchise rookie record for goals in one playoff year, and he set the rookie record for points. Daryl Evans had five goals and 13 points as a rookie for the Kings in 1982, and Warren Rychel had six goals and 13 points in 1993.

"They've each been through their own adversity where they've gone down [to Manchester] and worked a little bit and then have been recalled," King said of Toffoli and Pearson. "It shows in their character because things like that grow on a person. But it helps them prepare for moments like this."


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