EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Darryl Sutter rushed the Los Angeles Kings out of their locker room in Newark on Saturday night as if they were fleeing the scene of a crime.
The Kings coach was just in a hurry to get home, and that’s what his club did: On the plane by midnight, wheels up by 1 a.m. Eastern time, and in their beds back on the West Coast shortly after 4 a.m. Pacific.
“Hey, every minute counts,” Sutter said Sunday after the Kings reported for a relaxed meeting at their training complex.
Sutter’s Kings do this type of travelling all the time, with roughly a dozen cross-country flights interspersed among the usual lengthier schedule of Western Conference teams. The New Jersey Devils hardly ever get this type of transcontinental road test, but both teams think it’s unlikely to be a factor in the Stanley Cup finals.
While the Kings played their first three rounds in Vancouver, St. Louis and blessedly close Phoenix, the Devils hadn’t even been on a plane since April 26. New Jersey could use ground transportation for the 90-mile commute to Philadelphia in the second round, followed by the virtual train ride to Madison Square Garden for the Eastern Conference finals.
Although the Kings don’t expect any extra edge in Game 3 on Monday night, they realize how difficult the move can be for teams who aren’t used to it. The Boston Bruins lost the first two games of last season’s finals on the road in Vancouver, playing their worst two games of the season, before rallying to win the Stanley Cup.
“Travel in the West, it’s a little longer and tougher,” Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. “You change a lot more time zones, but it’s not going to matter. You still have to prepare yourself to play your best.”
DEVILISH INSPIRATION: Drew Doughty says the New Jersey Devils can blame one of their former stars for the inspiration behind his highlight-reel goal in Game 2.
Doughty put the Kings on top with a spectacular end-to-end rush, treating all five Devils like practice cones before firing a shot past Martin Brodeur.
When the talented defenceman was told his goal recalled Scott Niedermayer’s red-line-to-red-line goal for New Jersey in Game 2 of the 1995 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit, Doughty—who was 5 at the time—readily agreed, citing that score as an influential moment of his youth.
“I was happy I could do that,” Doughty said. “It’s not too often you get to score a highlight-reel goal as a D-man.”
Doughty knew all about Niedermayer’s goal because he was a fan of Brodeur and the Devils while growing up in Ontario. But Doughty’s favourites since birth have always been the Kings and their star at the time: Wayne Gretzky.
That rebound goal signalled Niedermayer’s arrival as one of the NHL’s top defencemen. Doughty already has been a Norris Trophy finalist, but isn’t as well-known as other elite NHL blueliners while playing on the West Coast.
“I’m having a lot of fun right now,” he said. “I know in order for our team to be successful, I’ve got to be the best defenceman on the ice every night. Even though I put that pressure on myself, I’m having fun. I think that’s when I’m at my best. I’m enjoying coming to the rink every day, being in this moment in the spotlight.”
NOT TOO EMBARRASSING: Although Ilya Kovalchuk says the New Jersey Devils’ power play was “embarrassing” in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, he should take a look at the team that’s beating them.
The Kings are still stuck in one of the biggest power-play droughts in NHL playoff history after going 0 for 2 against the Devils. Los Angeles is an astonishing 6 for 77 in the post-season on the power play—and three of those goals occurred with a two-man advantage.
If Los Angeles can win two more games, it’s likely to surpass Boston’s 10-for-88 ineptitude last season, the worst power play on a Stanley Cup champion in NHL history.
Kings captain Dustin Brown would be more worried about it if they weren’t winning.
“I think it’s one of those things you should stay focused on,” Brown said. “Our percentage is not going to be good regardless, but we have opportunities ahead of us on the power play. You look at our power play thus far this whole (post-season), we haven’t scored many goals, but the goals we have scored have been really key goals for us, dating to the very first series against Vancouver.”
Kovalchuk called out the Devils’ power play after going 0 for 4 in Game 2, but coach Peter DeBoer said the description was “a little harsh. Hopefully a little is lost in translation there. You’re emotional after a loss.”
The Devils’ problems are best attributed to the Kings’ stellar penalty-killing in front of Jonathan Quick, who seems to raise his considerable game another notch in such situations.
“They’ve got a really good penalty-kill,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “They know how to pressure at the right time. They make it hard to get set up, but once we do get set up, I feel like we can get some great chances.”
CHAMPIONS’ COURT: Here’s a switch: The Los Angeles Lakers are done with the post-season, so Kobe Bryant is making room for the Kings.
The Lakers loaned their practice courts to the NHL this week at the Toyota Sports Center. That’s the training complex shared by the two teams in El Segundo, a small city next to Los Angeles’ airport.
The Kings and Lakers also share Staples Center with the Clippers, but the 16-time NBA champion Lakers usually have both places all to themselves by this time of year.
The Kings and Devils spoke to the Stanley Cup finals media Sunday on the Lakers’ purple-and-gold courts. The gym is decorated with championship banners, and the Lakers’ championship trophies can be seen sitting in an office window above the court.
Although Kings defenceman Drew Doughty has been training in this building since he was an 18-year-old rookie in 2008, he had never ventured 100 feet over to the basketball side of the complex.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in here,” Doughty said, paying particular attention to the championship banners that nearly circle the entire court. “It would be nice to throw one of those up in our practice facility, for sure.”
The complex has three ice rinks, including the Kings’ primary practice rink, which will need a renovation in the off-season to create a spot for at least their new Western Conference championship banner. Los Angeles’ only two banners for team success already hang over the ice, recognizing the 1991 Smythe Division title and the 1993 conference crown.