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Simmonds steps up when Kings need him most

by Dave Lozo
VANCOUVER -- Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray was rewarded for the faith he showed in Wayne Simmonds.
Inserted on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth in place of Justin Williams, who was a healthy scratch, Simmonds scored the game-tying goal midway through the second period Saturday night in the Kings' 3-2 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
It was a bold decision by Murray, who opted to bench the underperforming veteran and replace him with a 21-year-old who entered the game with one postseason contest under his belt. Williams missed 28 games this season with a broken leg and hasn't found consistency since returning, so Murray rolled the dice with the second-year player and came up with a winner.
"Simmonds played tremendous here tonight," Murray said. "He was twice the player that he was in Game 1. Skating, he was on the puck; he played heavier, he played grittier. He just was more aware of what was going on. By the middle of the first period he was on track. I liked what I saw."
What he saw was his top line actually playing like a top line. They controlled the puck in the Canucks zone and cycled the puck pretty consistently, something that was lacking in Game 1. Besides the game-tying goal in the second period, Simmonds also drew a holding penalty against Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts early in the third period.
Simmonds saw some time during the regular season on the top line while Williams was out, but on Saturday the threesome looked like they had been playing together all season.
"Simmer played a really strong game," said Kopitar, who had the assist on Simmonds' goal and scored the OT winner. "I thought he was physical, I thought he was winning all the battles, which is great for me and Smitty just to kind of get in and hold on to the puck a little more. Obviously he can make plays. He can score goals too. I thought it was a good addition to the line."
"It's so much fun. Playing with those guys is a dream come true," Simmonds said. "I played with Kopi and Smitty and couple times this year when Willy was hurt there. I kind of know what the deal is. Kopi is unbelievable with the puck, just get Smitty the puck down low and watch him work. All I really try to do is go out there and just collect loose pucks for those guys and do what they like to do."
All Simmonds had to do was drive the net and keep his stick down to score his first playoff goal. Kopitar led a 3-on-1 rush and slid a perfect pass to Simmonds, who made no mistake when the puck hit his stick.
"I was the third guy wide, and I actually thought Kopi was going to shoot it," Simmonds said. "He kind of faked it, he made (goaltender Roberto) Luongo bite hard and when I got the puck it was an empty net and all I had to do was slide it in. It was an unbelievable feeling."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DLozoNHL

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