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Title defense hangs in balance for Kings in Game 7

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- During last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter veered from routine and held morning skates at Staples Center instead of the team's South Bay practice facility. He wanted his team to get a feel for a "big-game day."

Though the Kings played in many high-intensity games on the way to the Stanley Cup last spring, they never had to play a game facing elimination. In that respect, Sutter will get what he wished for Tuesday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN).

"This is for a chance for us to defend what we have," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "There's certainly butterflies. There's everything that you can imagine. Every play's magnified and every play will be magnified, and you don't want your last game to end on a loss. You want to have good memories of the way you played in your final game.

"[The Cup run] came as a surprise last year. But this year there's a big target. There's a sense of satisfaction if someone knocks off the defending Stanley Cup champs. We don't want that to happen."

San Jose seemed to be a much looser room at the morning skate, but that's probably the case in general given L.A.'s typical businesslike approach. There did not appear to be any changes in the lineups, and each coach declared his team ready. Even Scott Gomez's eyes lit up for what will be his 10th Game 7.

"Basically it’s everything you prepared for is this moment," Gomez said. "That's what all the practices, all the roller-coaster rides over the years are. This is what you train for. It's like anything in life. It's the big moment and you've got to go back to everything you prepared. We're well-prepared. We're ready. They're the champs. We've got to go take it from them.

"A lot of guys are going to get experience in this one warm-up. It's Game 7. You're going to feel a different vibe, and it's good for everyone. And if you don't have some butterflies, you must be a robot or something."

The notion that the pressure is tilted toward L.A. because it is the defending champion was thrown out there.

San Jose coach Todd McLellan said he didn't think his team feels a lot of pressure, but qualified it by saying, ironically, they can't come out "loosey-goosey." He did spotlight the stage that is in front of them. San Jose is attempting to advance to the conference finals for the third time in four years, and this would be a hurdle over their in-state divisional rival.

"We've got the Stanley Cup champs, in Game 7, in their building," McLellan said. "Everybody's watching. Great opportunity for us. Really good opportunity."

The series is defined by the home team and team that scores first winning every game. Los Angeles not only has a 13-game home winning streak, but its defensive style of play lends itself to being quite comfortable with a lead. Sutter chalked up this aspect of the series to the shortened season when "it's been chasing the lead or not having the energy for offense has been tough for everybody."

In what has been a season-long issue, Sutter again called upon the need for scoring from his left wings. Dwight King and Dustin Penner are the primary guilty parties with no goals in the series.

"I think we need more from our left side," Sutter said. "We've got two even-strength goals the whole playoffs from our left side. When you talk about lines, that's one of the three guys that aren't pulling their weight."

It was unclear whether Sutter would again play forward Jordan Nolan on the fourth line over more offensive-minded Tyler Toffoli, like he did in Game 6. Nolan and Toffoli came off the ice at the same time.

One certainty is that center Jarret Stoll is still far removed from being available. Stoll was concussed in Game 1 by Raffi Torres and recently started skating with the team. Stoll is believed to have been concussed in the 2006-07 season, but he referenced more in his history.

"I've had a couple of these, three or four of these before, so it's not a first time," Stoll said. "There's no sense trying to be a hero when you're talking about your brain. It's one of those things everybody says, 'You only got one.' You just got to do the right thing. No matter what the situation is regarding this whole series and Game 7 -- smarter is better in this case."

Stoll said he likely will watch the game from a suite. He has previously kept a distance from the games and watched from the dressing room, but this is an exception.

"I hope we come out and play well and get the win and move on from there but, yeah, they’re always tough to watch, especially an elimination game will be tough to watch," Stoll said.

Stoll confirmed that Torres reached out to him but Stoll wouldn't comment further.

Here are the expected lineups:


Patrick MarleauLogan CoutureJoe Pavelski

TJ GaliardiJoe ThorntonBrent Burns

James SheppardScott GomezTommy Wingels

Bracken KearnsAndrew DesjardinsAdam Burish

Matt IrwinDan Boyle

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun

Scott HannanBrad Stuart

Antti Niemi

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Jason Demers, Tim Kennedy, Matt Pelech, Matt Tennyson

Injured: Martin Havlat (lower body)

Suspended: Raffi Torres


Kyle CliffordAnze KopitarJustin Williams

Dustin PennerMike RichardsJeff Carter

Dwight KingTrevor LewisDustin Brown

Brad RichardsonColin FraserJordan Nolan

Robyn RegehrDrew Doughty

Rob ScuderiSlava Voynov

Jake MuzzinMatt Greene

Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Bernier

Scratched: Alec Martinez, Keaton Ellerby, Tanner Pearson

Injured: Jarret Stoll (concussion), Willie Mitchell (knee)

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