Dustin Brown pounced on a loose puck and swatted it into the back of the net with 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining in the third period of Game 2 of the Kings’ second-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at Staples Center.
Trevor Lewis guided a long rebound into the net from the left wing with 1:21 remaining in what became an improbable 4-3 come-from-behind victory for the Kings over the Sharks in the game and a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-7 series.
First periods have been as tedious as third periods have been exciting lately for the Kings. There were only a handful of compelling moments in Thursday’s opening period, with Jaromir Jagr scoring on a power play for the Dallas Stars and Trevor Lewis countering with an even-strength strike for the Kings. Drew Doughty, looking for his first goal of the season, made a pretty move as he swept around the back of the net, but Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen denied him on a wraparound try.
The Kings led 4-1 going into the third period, taking advantage of some lackluster goaltending from Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov. The Avalanche got within 2-1 after Milan Hejduk scored a power-play goal only 1:16 into the second period, but it didn’t take long before the Kings answered.
The Kings pressured the Calgary Flames from the opening faceoff Wednesday night, and the result was perhaps their best opening period of the season. Their sustained pressure resulted in a goal from Dustin Brown in the early minutes. After the Flames’ T.J. Brodie tied it, Trevor Lewis put the Kings ahead 2-1 with his first goal of the season. Kings coach Darryl Sutter liked Lewis’ play so much during a 3-1 victoy Tuesday over the Edmonton Oilers that he played him with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards for Wednesday’s game against the Flames. Said Lewis during a between-periods TV interview: “We were focused tonight. We knew we needed to come out and get our legs going after playing last night. … I happened to jump on the puck and it went in.”
Veteran forward Trent Hunter will join the Kings in training camp on a pro tryout contract. The 31-year-old forward has spent his entire NHL career with the New York Islanders, for whom he played only 17 games last season before tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Nov. 24.
Hunter can provide a physical presence from the right wing at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, but also brings some scoring touch. He had never scored fewer than 11 goals in an NHL season before 2010-11, when Hunter scored just one. In 459 career NHL games, he has 99 goals, 229 points and 201 penalty minutes.
The Kings already signed a similar player, albeit with less offensive upside, in Ethan Moreau. Forward Colin Fraser is also in the mix for a bottom-six role along with Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis, Scott Parse and Kevin Westgarth. Jarret Stoll seems to have the third-line center position locked down, so that means Hunter will likely have to beat out one contracted player for a roster spot.
Restricted free-agent forward Trevor Lewis re-signed with the Kings on Friday. His two-year deal pays a reported $1.45 million.
The announcement came with little surprise one day after general manager Dean Lombardi said a new contract was “close.” Lewis had only three goals and 13 points in 72 games last season, his first full year in the NHL. But he was hard to take out of the lineup because of his speed — a rare commodity on last year’s squad — and penalty-killing value. Lewis also had a goal and four points in the Kings’ six-game playoff series against San Jose.
Lewis can play either center or the wing, and figures to compete with Andrei Loktionov for the fourth-line center position in training camp.
The Kings also announced the signings of forwards Marc-Andre Cliche, Rich Clune and David Meckler, defensemen Andrew Campbell and Patrick Mullen, and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff. All six players spent the entire season in Manchester and were restricted free agents.
One player who won’t be returning to the Monarchs is Corey Elkins. The agent for the restricted free-agent forward wrote on Twitter that Elkins could be headed to Europe for a year and won’t re-sign with the Kings. Elkins had 18 goals and 44 points in 76 games for Manchester last season, after posting 21 goals and 43 points in 72 games the year before. Signed as a free agent out of Ohio State University, Elkins had one goal in three games with the Kings, all in 2009-10.
Brad Richardson became the latest restricted free agent to come to terms with the Kings on Wednesday, avoiding arbitration with a two-year deal that pays $1 million in 2011-12 and $1.35 million in 2012-13.
His annual salary-cap hit of $1.175 million is reasonable for a player who has a 14-goal season to his credit, kills penalties, adds speed to a relatively slow group of forwards, and can play all three forward positions. Richardson won 50.8 percent of his faceoffs last season, third on the team. He jelled with Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds — who has since been traded to Philadelphia –during the playoffs, and his five points (two goals, three assists) in six games matched Clifford for the team lead.
According to capgeek.com, the Kings still have $10.7 million of cap room to play with.
Which leads to the question of who will be the next to sign.
The Kings did not so much as steal a win Saturday, as they did dominate in such a fashion that makes you wonder why they can’t win every night.
After converting their first two power plays of the game –amazing what that can do for a team –the Kings were able to do what they do best: Play conservative, defensive hockey and give Jonathan Quick a fairly easy path to a 34-save shutout.
Drew Doughty was the offensive catalyst, scoring two goals and assisting on the other two, and tying a franchise record for most points in a playoff game by a defenseman. Paul Coffey was the first Kings defenseman with four points in a playoff game.
“It was a very big win coming into this building in game 2,” Kings head coach Terry Murray said. “We were a little short with key players out of the line-up. That requires a really competitive attitude by everyone that’s playing. Guys have to really dig in and play hard for each other and I think that’s the competitive spirit that our team has shown many, many times over the last few years.”
With Jarret Stoll serving a one-game suspension for his Game 1 hit on Ian White (who was replaced in the Sharks’ lineup by Niclas Wallin), Oscar Moller and Trevor Lewis were the primary beneficiaries of the minutes at center. Moller played 10:37, finishing plus-1, while Lewis played 17 minutes.
Kyle Clifford and Jack Johnson each had a goal and an assist for the KIngs, who were outshot 34-23.
The Kings’ top two scorers will not be healthy when the playoffs begin. That’s the grim reality facing the Kings after Anze Kopitar broke his ankle in the second period of a 4-1 win over the Avalanche on Saturday.
Head coach Terry Murray said that Kopitar will miss “a minimum of six weeks,” which certainly dampened the mood inside Staples Center.
Kopitar suffered the injury at 15:39 of the second period during a puck battle along the boards with Ryan O’Byrne (you can see the severity clearly at the 1:50 mark of this video):
The Kings are already without Justin Williams, who sustained a separated shoulder against the Calgary Flames earlier in the week. Now without Kopitar, “we have to find a way either way,” captain Dustin Brown said. “You don’t want have your best player go down but if that’s the case, we need to fill the responsibility collectively and find a way because no other team is going to feel sorry for us.”
“He’s your top player, your top forward, so there’s quite a hole that’s going to be there with him out of the lineup for this length of time,” Murray said. “I’ve dealt with this before with top guys being out with injuries and it’s an opportunity for other players to step up, the character of the team needs to step up and everyone needs to start doing the right things. You’ve got to trust your structure and your system and give it the best opportunity you can as a group to finish games off and play the right way.”
Kopitar could not finish his team-record 330th consecutive game after the injury. Willie Mitchell, Michal Handzus, Ryan Smyth and Trevor Lewis scored goals and Jonathan Quick stopped 20 of 21 shots against the rebuilding Avalanche.
The Kings are short on options at center. Everyone moved up a line after Kopitar’s injury -Handzus between Dustin Penner and Oscar Moller; Lewis between Brown and Smyth. But top prospects Andrei Loktionov (season-ending shoulder surgery) and Brayden Schenn (playing in junior) are not options. Cory Elkins (18 goals, 24 assists, 42 points) and Justin Azevedo (17+30=47) are the top two centers currently playing for AHL affiliate Manchester, but it’s unlikely that either player would be expected to fill a top-six role in the NHL today.
The Kings do not practice tomorrow and next play Tuesday in Edmonton.