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Kings getting boost from young Toffoli, Pearson

by Corey Masisak

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- San Jose Sharks rookies Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto have earned plenty of deserved praise for their play in the Western Conference First Round series against the Los Angeles Kings.

San Jose leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 and will try to finish off Los Angeles in Game 5 at SAP Center on Saturday (10:00pm ET; CNBC, CBC, RDS2, FS-W, CSN-CA), but the Kings also have a couple of rookies who are making an impact. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson were united on the second line next to Jeff Carter and played well in a 6-3 win for Los Angeles in Game 4 on Thursday.

"They've brought a lot of energy, a lot of speed, a lot of skill," veteran center Jarret Stoll said. "They've both got great shots. They can score on any goalie in this League, I believe. They've played in some big games and are so young, it is pretty impressive to see them playing the way they are playing, especially against a team like San Jose. That's a tough team, and for them to be playing well and playing in important situations is pretty impressive."

Toffoli scored the winning goal in Game 4 on his 22nd birthday, and 21-year-old Pearson had five hits for the third-highest total among the Kings. Carter, Drew Doughty and Marian Gaborik are the only Kings with more shots on goal in this series than the eight Toffoli has in limited minutes.

Pearson was not in the lineup for the first two games, but he's gone from the press box to the bottom of the lineup for Game 3 to the second line and second-unit power play in Game 4.

"There's a lot of big guns here who can score goals," Pearson said. "To be in those key situations when I get a chance, I need to make the most of my opportunity. So far it has been good.

"Tyler played a lot in the [NHL] playoffs last year, and I got in that one game and that definitely helped. Playing this season I've been up and down, but in this last stint I've started to feel very comfortable here. I've been trying to bring that to every game and keep it simple."

Toffoli and Pearson have been the Kings' best possession players despite logging fewer minutes compared to L.A.'s top forwards. The Kings have had 57.7 percent of their shot attempts at even strength with Toffoli on the ice, and 60 percent when Pearson is out there.

"I think just being around everyone here, you have to be confident and you to make the plays you'd normally make," Toffoli said. "You can't be scared to make a couple of mistakes, and just make sure you're working hard.

"We were just working hard and brought a lot of energy. I think we were getting pucks to the net and putting pressure on their D. It worked well and we just have to keep it going."

The Sharks have posed some issues for the Kings with their depth and speed. Giving more prominent roles to Toffoli and especially Pearson has been one way to help combat that. It also helps the kids to play with the veteran Carter, who has been one of the best players in this series.

Toffoli has played with Carter a fair amount in his NHL career, but a lot of the time it has been with Mike Richards at center between them. Richards was moved to a different line and Carter shifted to the middle for Game 4.

"He's a pretty easy guy to play with," Toffoli said of Carter. "He's such a good skater that he gets open for you. I think he makes it a lot easier for you to make plays and gives you a lot of space because teams know of his speed and what he can do. It definitely makes more room for us and you just have to capitalize on your chances."

Toffoli and Pearson have plenty of experience playing together. At certain times last season, they flanked fellow prospect Linden Vey on a line with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.

"Tyler and I played against each other in juniors so we knew each other from then," Pearson said. "We played together in Manchester and got to know each other pretty well. I think we've become pretty good friends.

"Last year there was about eight of us that lived in the same building. There was a lot of playing cards, playing poker, that kind of thing, going to movies. In the winters there's not a lot to do. It gets pretty cold."

Toffoli was a second-round pick (No. 47) in the 2010 NHL Draft, and Pearson was the first-round choice (No. 30) shortly after winning the Stanley Cup in 2012. Along with Vey, a fourth-round pick (No. 96) in 2009, they represent an enticing future for the Kings.

They are part of an organization that is patient with prospects, because it believes philosophically in a measured development path and because there is not a lot of room on the roster. The core of the Kings team that won the Stanley Cup in 2012 remains in place and prospects have had to work a little harder to find playing time than they would in other organizations.

"It obviously crossed my mind," Pearson said of being drafted by the defending champs in 2012. "Last year there was a lockout so there was no way for it to happen as that was going on. You're obviously trying your best to impress the staff here. We had a pretty good team in Manchester and a pretty good line with Vey, Toffoli and I. It's worked out well for me and I can't be happier."

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