EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Anze Kopitar won’t allow a puck to the face to keep him out of the Los Angeles Kings’ title defence.
Kopitar returned to practice at the Kings’ training complex on Friday, and he’s ready to play in Game 3 on Saturday night at the Shark Tank after surviving a scary moment in the third period of Game 2 against the San Jose Sharks.
Kopitar missed only a few minutes of the Kings’ 4-3 victory Thursday night after a shot by teammate Dustin Brown hit him in the left side of his face above his upper lip.
“I’ve felt better before, but I guess when you come out of the situation with a couple of stitches, it’s not too bad,” Kopitar said before the Kings’ flight to San Jose. “I wanted to make sure it’s nothing serious. As soon as I found out, I wanted to come back. It’s really a no-brainer.”
Brown’s shot caught Kopitar squarely in the face, and a hush fell over Staples Center as he went down in a heap and finally skated off with a towel on his face. After getting roughly 20 stitches in the dressing room, Kopitar returned later in the period to the strains of the “Rocky” theme song.
Los Angeles trailed 3-2 with less than two minutes to play—and while Kopitar would never suggest he inspired one of the most amazing comebacks in Kings history, the Slovenian centre was on the ice when the Kings scored the first of two late power-play goals in 22 seconds to steal Game 2 from the Sharks.
“I heard the (crowd) got a little bit louder,” Kopitar said. “Just shows how passionate they are. It’s nice to know they’re always behind us.”
The Kings’ leading scorer and top centre is sporting a nasty, jagged cut on his face, but it’s nothing hockey players haven’t seen before.
“There goes the modeling career,” coach Darryl Sutter deadpanned. “Best-looking Slovenian athlete. Hockey players are different than other athletes. Get hit in the face, and they get cut, and they get sewed up and they come back out and play. Very seldom in 30-some years seen a player that doesn’t do that. Spit your teeth in your hand. It’s good, coach.”
This isn’t the first time this season Brown has injured Kopitar, either: The captain accidentally hit his linemate in the face with his stick during a home game earlier this season.
Kopitar was the Kings’ leading scorer for the sixth consecutive regular season, scoring 42 points in 47 games. The Slovenian centre has just one goal and three assists in eight playoff games, only ending a personal 19-game goal drought in Game 4 of the first round against St. Louis.
But the Kings are excelling again in the post-season without eye-popping numbers from Kopitar. The reigning Stanley Cup champions lead San Jose 2-0 in the series despite getting outplayed for long stretches.
Sleeping was another challenge for Kopitar with his swollen, sutured face, but he figured it out.
“I just wanted to make sure I was always on my right side or on my back,” Kopitar said. “I didn’t want to roll over to the left, but I got a good night’s sleep.”
The rest of the Kings’ roster also appears to be improving. Forward Kyle Clifford was in practice with the Kings’ regulars Friday after missing the past three playoff games with an undisclosed injury.