The Kings played almost all of the lockout-shortened season without veteran defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. Greene could be back soon after undergoing back surgery after playing one game. Mitchell is out for the duration after undergoing two knee surgeries. Their absence created a void and young players Keaton Ellerby and Jake Muzzin filled in capably, giving the Kings the sort of boost they needed to stay competitive.
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell underwent a second knee surgery in the last few months earlier this week and the results weren’t good. General manager Dean Lombardi said Mitchell wouldn’t play this season and “there’s some legitimate concern whether he plays next year.” Mitchell had surgery to mend torn meniscus during the lockout, but never made it back onto the ice with his teammates. He was key player in the team’s Stanley Cup title.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said defenseman Willie Mitchell underwent platelet rich plasma therapy Tuesday for his surgically-repaired right knee, but there is no timetable for his return to the lineup. Mitchell has had a number of setbacks after undergoing surgery to repair torn meniscus in December.
Defenseman Willie Mitchell skated before Saturday’s game against Phoenix, but didn’t take the ice Sunday or Monday. Sutter wouldn’t say if Mitchell suffered another setback in his comeback from surgery early last month to mend torn meniscus in his right knee.
The Kings have been shorthanded on the blue line, with Mitchell sidelined for the lockout-shortened training camp and the first five games of the season and Matt Greene expected to be out for two months or more after undergoing back surgery last week.
Ryan Smyth has been there before.
It was Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, his Edmonton Oilers against Justin Williams’ Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers led 4-1 after two periods in Raleigh before losing 5-4. The series went the full seven games before Carolina won.
“It really set the shifting of that game, in my opinion, in their favor,” said Smyth, one of the Kings’ veteran leaders, with Williams sitting a few feet away in the team’s locker room after practice. “But we battled hard. We stayed in the series. We obviously pushed it to (Game) 7.”
Willie Mitchell has been there before, too.
Down three games to one to the Colorado Avalanche in the 2003 playoffs, his Minnesota Wild won three straight to advance to the second round.
“Sometimes individuals have to go through that in order to know how to handle it,” the Kings defenseman said. “The roles have been reversed the other way. We won 4-0 up in San Jose, it was the same thing. It’s a learning experience for some guys on this team who haven’t been through that.”
The Kings’ 6-5 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of their first-round series Tuesday was nothing new to several of the teams’ veterans. The Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators are the youngest teams participating in the playoffs (average age: 26.9).
Head coach Terry Murray complimented the older players Wednesday, when the Kings went back practice trying to put Tuesday’s debacle behind them.
The hashtags and catchphrases were skipping through cyberspace within a half-hour of Devin Setoguchi’s goal at 3:09 of overtime: “The Failure on Figueroa.”
After squandering a 4-0, second-period lead, the Kings’ 6-5 overtime loss in Game 3 to the San Jose Sharks can be seen as nothing less.
“We’ve got to look at what happened in the second (period), learn from it,” a despondent Kings captain Dustin Brown said, “because we don’t have the type of team that can take periods off, especially at this time of year.”
Apparently the Sharks do — a revelation that may ultimately prove the difference in the series.
Antti Niemi was pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots, the last of which came 44 seconds into the second period on a Brad Richardson wrister.
Somehow, inexplicably, the Sharks shed the ghosts of postseasons past by scoring five goals over the remainder of the second period. Only a backdoor, breakaway tally by Ryan Smyth interrupted the onslaught and kept the teams tied at 5 heading into the third period.
“[It was] puck management,” Brown said. “We needed to get the puck deep on them. They’re a fast offensive team and we gave them chances and plays. They can find lanes and open areas to get some goals, and that’s kind of what happened with the overtime goal. They transitioned it from their end, and it was pretty quick.”
Like ripping off a band-aid, Setoguchi’s first goal of the series provided a stinging, decisive conclusion to a back-and-forth game.
The question now: How deep do the Kings’ emotional wounds run?
“It stings right now,” Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. “We got to let it go though right away. You give yourself tonight, you feel bad about it, but tomorrow’s a new day.”
The short version: Puck dropped, Oscar Moller debuted, Kyle Clifford returned, the penalty-kill streak ended, the power-play streak ended, Willie Mitchell scored, Ryane Clowe chirped, Patrick Marleau fooled Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown answered, Antti Niemi exited, Marleau fooled the entire defense with 4.1 seconds left in regulation … overtime, shootout, Dan Boyle scored, controversy ensued, Jarret Stoll scored, Quick save, Quick save, Quick save, Brown goal, Quick save, game.
Just another night in the NHL.
“I’m not disappointed and I’m not surprised that stuff like that happens,” Terry Murray said after another gut-wrenching, 65-plus minutes of hockey. “I’m watching games in this league right now and it is incredible what’s happening late in games, overtimes, shootouts.”
My early story, which some of you will find in your newspaper tomorrow, has plenty of details on Moller’s first NHL game in more than three months. “For the first game in a long time here, he was really good,” said Murray, who went on to compliment Moller’s composure and puck-moving skill on the power play.
Some of you will find my late story, which has plenty of game details — in complete sentences, no less.
The Sharks were happy to get the point, which allowed them to match Detroit at 95 points (though the Wings have a game in hand). The Kings sit five points back with 90 points, three points behind second-place Phoenix and three points ahead of the final Western Conference playoff berth.
Some additional notes, courtesy of the Kings’ PR staff:
The Kings let one slip away.
In a game they led for all but 89 seconds, the Kings watched the Dallas Stars leap two points ahead of them in the standings on Brenden Morrow’s goal 38 seconds into overtime.
The blame was squarely pointed toward a power play that failed to convert four chances spanning 9:00 — including a three-minute major penalty after Steve Ott was penalized for spearing late in the first period.
“We need to re-focus, re-adjust — especially on the power play — and I think maybe just relax a little bit,” said Justin Williams, who had a goal and an assist. “We know we’re struggling on the power play but we need to relax out there I think a little bit with the man advantage and in turn make plays because there are a lot of guys that are really good with the puck and we need to execute that.”
Willie Mitchell and Kyle Clifford also scored goals for the Kings (36-25-5, 77 points), who got 18 saves from Jonathan Bernier. With the Kings up 3-2 at 5:20 of the third period, Bernier was burned for a short-handed goal by Jamie Benn, who stole the puck from Drew Doughty just inside the Kings blue line and skated the length of the ice before depositing the puck between Bernier’s legs.
Mike Ribeiro and Trevor Daley also scored for Dallas (36-23-7, 79 points).
Willie Mitchell picked a good time to score his second goal of the season.
His long slapshot, off a perfect drop pass from Justin Williams, found its way through a screen at 6:45 of the third period and broke a 2-2 tie at Honda Center. The split crowd of 17,174 voiced its mixed emotions, and the Kings clinched their sixth win in the final game of a 10-game road trip.
Anze Kopitar scored his second goal in his last 16 games, Ryan Smyth scored his 20th goal of the season, and the Kings get to come home (even though they’ve been at home the last three days) to play Minnesota tomorrow night.