LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Big, fast and physical, the Los Angeles Kings play a punishing brand of hockey. But it’s also a smart game.
There’s more to the Kings than banging bodies. They take a toll mentally on their opponents.
“Very opportunistic, first and foremost,” Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh said of the Kings’ game. “They make something out of nothing a few times in the game and that’s what’s dangerous.
“You feel like you’ve got them. You feel like you’ve got a simple battle in the corner, you’ve got numbers back. It doesn’t matter, they find a way to get a puck towards the net and get a bounce, get the right body position. You’ve got to maintain your discipline and your focus all the way through until your shift is done.”
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who faced 20 shots in the third period of the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1, says the Kings can threaten from anywhere.
“They like to throw pucks from the outside, go for rebounds,” said the stylish Swede. “A lot of times you might not think there’s a big chance, but a lot of times they create something from second and third chances, not necessarily from the first shot.
“It’s important that you don’t relax even though you feel like you have everything under control maybe in the first sequence. That’s when they can surprise you a little bit.”
“They throw a lot of bodies, throw a lot of pucks on net,” Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi summed up.
The Kings certainly have the Rangers’ attention. New York coach Alain Vigneault has spent the last two days urging his team to dig deep for Game 2 Saturday.
“If you’re in the final, and your expectations are to win, you have to bring your best game to the table. Our guys are aware of that,” he said. “Our guys are talking to themselves, between themselves about it. We’re all looking for a better response (Saturday).”
Both teams practised Friday—the Rangers at Staples Center and the Kings at their practice facility in suburban El Segundo.
There will likely be lineup changes on both sides.
Rangers defenceman John Moore, eligible to return from a two-game suspension, resumed his normal spot in practice. And Kings coach Darryl Sutter said veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr, who has been out injured since Game 1 of the Anaheim series, will “probably” play.
Vigneault says backup goalie Cam Talbot remains day-do-day with an undisclosed injury.
Despite losing last time out, the Rangers were as cool as ice Friday. The message has been to turn the page on Game 1, while turning it up a notch for Game 2.
For the Kings, it’s stay the course. That means playing with discipline and putting their bodies on the line for the 105th time since the start of the regular season.
It is to their credit that they can continue to play their game.
“Our style is not easy to play for 82 games every night,” acknowledged captain Dustin Brown when asked about the team’s scoring lapses during the regular season. “Sometimes we get into a funk and everyone focuses on our goal-scoring.
“There was a stretch of games (during the regular season) where we couldn’t score but we were finding ways to win games because we played the right way on the other side of the puck. I think that’s where a lot of our success comes from, is really the defensive side of the puck.”
Los Angeles ranked 26th in the league during the regular season with 2.42 goals a game. It helped that the Kings were first in goals-against average at 2.05.
In the playoffs, they lead with 3.46 goals a game. They are in the middle of the playoff pack with 2.82 goals against.
Asked how they have managed to add a gear in the post-season, Brown said champions find a way.
“This time of year, good teams find that extra,” he said.
The Kings clearly take pride in the toll that their game takes on opponents.
“When teams play against us and say that ‘Man, these guys compete, they play hard. They battle for every puck. And yeah, to win four out of seven against these guys is going to take a lot,'” said defenceman Willie Mitchell.
“If other teams are saying that, or people from the outside are kind of giving us that label, it means that we’re doing a lot of things here and we’ll continue to do that.”
On Saturday, it’s the Rangers time to dig deep.
“We have to expect they’re going to be a lot better,” said New York forward Brad Richards. “We have to be better or you’re going to be down 2-0 … It’s this time of year. You get one crack at it. You got to raise it. There’s no other option.”
Added Girardi: “We know in the room here that we have what it takes to get the job done.”
“We’re going to be ready (Saturday),” said Vigneault.
A good performance and the Rangers go home happy.
“It would be really nice to have (the series) 1-1 leaving L.A.,” said forward Carl Hagelin.
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