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Kings' offense thriving due to success on faceoffs

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Most of the talk after Game 2 of the Western Conference Final has been about the offensive explosion by the Los Angeles Kings, who tied a franchise Stanley Cup Playoff record with five goals in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks.

What might be overlooked is what helped lead to those goals.

In a series between two puck-possession teams, the Kings simply had the puck more in Game 2 because they won 43 faceoffs to Chicago's 27. That bodes well for Los Angeles going into Game 3 on Saturday night at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). The best of-7-series is tied 1-1.

The Kings have strength down the middle with Anze Kopitar, who won 15 of 21 faceoffs in Game 2, and Jarret Stoll, who won 14 of 22 primarily against Chicago's Jonathan Toews, Michal Handzus and Marcus Kruger.

"If you can start with the puck, regardless of who you're playing, that helps," said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who plays with Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. "You notice when you're on the ice more than when you're not. I don't know what his percentage was, but [Kopitar], it seems like he hardly lost any draws, and as a result, we play a lot less in the D-zone, which is important, especially against Toews and [Marian] Hossa and [Bryan] Bickell, because they're not easy guys to defend."

The faceoff dot helped Los Angeles late in the second round series against the Anaheim Ducks, whose failure to secure a second-line center at the NHL Trade Deadline came back to haunt them in the circle. The Kings won 79 draws in Games 6-7; Anaheim won 52.

Los Angeles ranks second in the NHL with a 53.2 percent winning percentage on faceoffs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The next-closest active playoff team is Chicago, ninth at 50.2 percent.

Stoll, who gets down low to take draws, has been particularly effective with 24 faceoffs won against 11 lost in the first two games.

"In Games 1 and 2, we were pretty good," Stoll said. "We've got to continue to be good. They've got some great centers that can win lot of faceoffs a lot of different ways. We've been good all year, first or second all year as a team, so we've got to continue to be that and start with the puck and make them work to get it."

In theory, those extra possessions make it easier to defend against Chicago, which has been held to 20 and 25 shots on goal in Games 1-2. The Kings allowed 35 or more shots six times in the first nine games of the playoffs, but have allowed an average of 22 shots in the past seven games.

Chicago is a team that can still win when despite getting a limited number of shots, but the Blackhawks have to have the puck in order to shoot it.

"Faceoffs are huge," Kings defenseman Alec Martinez said. "It's a 50-50 battle every time. It's not just the centermen. All five guys on the ice got to help. I guess it's very simple in that when you have the puck, they don't. Puck possession is part of it. But it's also part of our game too -- get in on the forecheck and cycling the puck down low and hopefully grinding teams down."

Los Angeles was back on the ice Friday with one wrinkle in its lines. Right wings Justin Williams and Kyle Clifford were switched on the third and fourth lines. It was otherwise business as usual for the Kings, who have moved past Game 2.

Asked if they caught Chicago sleeping in that game, Stoll said, "No. They're a well-experienced team, a good team like we are. We expect them to not be very happy about their last game, but we feel we have to be better too. We've got to match their intensity, match their push, have our own push. We're back in front of our home crowd, and that has to give us an extra added boost too. But we realize it's going to get harder from this point on. Just because it's 1-1 doesn't mean anything."

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