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Kings know what they'll see from Blackhawks

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter typically has to be in the right mood to discuss the past. He usually welcomes those questions as much as he does a neutral-zone turnover.

Sutter opened up briefly, though, when the inevitable question came about his seasons spent with the Chicago Blackhawks, eight as a player and five as an assistant or coach.

"[I was there as a] young guy, old guy, single guy, married guy; with children; lots of sports, two baseball teams, football teams, great basketball team," Sutter said. "Really good hockey team.

"It's a great hockey environment. The reason it's a great environment is you have good hockey teams, and when you don't have good hockey teams you don't have a good environment."

Those memories from the 1980s and early 1990s will dissipate into the United Center roof when Sutter's defending Stanley Cup champions open the Western Conference Final against Chicago on Saturday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN).

The Blackhawks buzz-killed the Kings' Stanley Cup-banner raising ceremony when it practically skated L.A. off its own ice in the season opener Jan. 19. Los Angeles is one of the biggest teams in the NHL, and Chicago feeds off an up-tempo skating game.

"It's no secret our identity is a big, strong, physical team, but we like to do that with up-tempo and speed as well," Kings center Colin Fraser said. "They're obviously a fast team. Playing there with [coach Joel] Quenneville [in 2008-10], he always preaches get the puck up the ice real quick, real fast and with speed, and play up-tempo. It's no secret what both teams [do], it's just a matter of who does it better."

That was the sentiment at Kings' practice Thursday before they departed for Chicago.

"We know what we're getting," center Anze Kopitar said. "There's no secret to them. They have some world-class players. We've got to limit their chances and try and be as physical as we can. The game plan doesn't change a whole lot.

"They don't have lots of big forwards, but they do have speedy forwards. That's definitely one of their strengths, and they want to play with their strengths. At the same time, we want to play to our strengths and see how everything turns out."

Los Angeles last played Chicago on March 25. It came out of United Center with a 5-4 win, which set in motion a recurring offensively challenged theme. Kopitar scored in that game then went into a 19-game goal-scoring slump. Dwight King scored in that game and hasn't scored since. Jarret Stoll scored in that game and went goal-less in the next 23 games.

Stoll remains day-to-day with a concussion. The center has not yet taken contact, and Sutter expectedly didn't have much comment.

"I have no further update on Jarret Stoll and there won't be an update unless you give us an update on someone from Chicago," Sutter said.

The lack of offense cannot be overstated on the road. The Kings have scored eight goals (three on the power play) in six road games in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their leading postseason goal-scorer, Jeff Carter, had two in the conference semifinals, including an empty netter. Hard to believe that, during the Cup run in 2012, there were six times L.A. scored four goals a game on the road.

Players have recently voiced that they really need to help out goalie Jonathan Quick, who has taken a page from 2012, with even less offensive support.

"We need to score on the road," captain Dustin Brown said. "We've done a really good job taking care of home ice, and that needs to continue, but we need to find a way to give Johnny some goal support on the road … find a way to get the job done on the offensive part of the game without sacrificing our defense."

Dustin Penner
Dustin Penner
Left Wing - LAK
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 24 | +/-: 1

A big part of the blame can be pointed at L.A.'s left side. Dustin Penner has two goals in 13 games, and King has no goals and three assists.

Mike Richards opined that the left wings generally don't get a lot of touches when they play with a left-handed center because it's easier for the center to make a forehand pass. But King said, "Overall, it's a pretty small factor."

"I've had scoring chances," King said. "I've had breakaways. I've hit posts. I've had looks. Obviously they're not going in like they did last year, but they're there, so I've just got to bear down."

Undermining all this is that L.A. has thrived on low-scoring games, and starting on the road isn't so doom-and-gloom considering the Kings fell behind 0-2 away from home in the conference quarterfinals to the St. Louis Blues and prevailed.

The only wrinkle this time is back-to-back games; Game 2 is Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN).

The last time the Kings played on back-to-back days in the playoffs was April 22-23, 2002, against the Colorado Avalanche.

"I guess it's different, but at the same time it's good to bang 'em out and see who the better team is here the first two games," Fraser said.

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