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When the New Jersey Devils handed Ilya Kovalchuk a bank-breaking, 15-year contract, they made it clear he would be a huge part of their franchise. When they won 4-1 Tuesday to even their second-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers at one game apiece, they let it be known that they could still handle elite competition without their top offensive player. Kovalchuk, who had team highs of 37 goals and 83 points during the regular season, remained in New Jersey during Game 2 as he recovered from a lower-body injury that limited his effectiveness in a Game 1 loss. "I think we know the hole we're in if we lose tonight," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "I think our backs are against the wall obviously with [Kovalchuk] out. I'm not surprised we responded the way we did." The Devils won with a consistent, and comprehensive effort. They won battles and “were quicker” according to Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "[Kovalchuk] is a huge part of our team and internally we knew that everyone had to be a little better not having him in the lineup and tonight we responded well," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We got contributions from everyone and our defense getting involved and getting some goals." After falling behind on an early goal by rookie Matt Read, the Devils came in waves, dominating the second period. They did not allow a shot on goal from Philadelphia until there were less than two minutes to play in the middle stanza. Even so, the score remained 1-0 in favor of Philly heading into the second intermission. "We were getting chances, it wasn't going in for us. We kept working," David Clarkson said. "We didn't give up, we kept pushing." Indeed they did, knotting the game at one during a four-on-four situation. Tellingly, it was two supporting players stepping up on a nifty two-man play in the right slot. Danius Zubrus set up Adam Larsson, who dressed for the first time this postseason. "Great for Larsson," DeBoer said. "Here's a kid who's sat for eight games and worked to keep himself in shape and jumps into a playoff game and does what he does. That says a lot about his character." Peter Harrold, who assumed Kovalchuk’s right-point position on the power play, was on the ice for the goal as well. At 11:17 of the third period, Clarkson scored the game-winning goal, his first playoff tally since April 23, 2009 against Carolina. He wound up hanging on the crossbar after taking a shove while crashing the net, a fittingly high-flying celebration. Clarkson skated with Parise and leading setup man Patrik Elias on a formidable line Tuesday. Less than three minutes later, the Devils added an insurance marker when Travis Zajac scored off a backhanded shot. "We had a good feeling that if we were going to get one, we were going to get a couple,” said Parise, who recorded an assist and four shots on net. The Devils did it all in spite of an outstanding performance from Ilya Bryzgalov. He turned aside 31 of 34 New Jersey bids, including spectacular saves like the beauty he made with his pad on Adam Henrique. “[Bryzgalov] was phenomenal, but we have to be better in front of him,” Laviolette said. Bryce Salvador’s fluttering, length-of-the-ice shot found the Flyers’ vacated net late to account for the final margin. While the Devils may have Kovalchuk back for Game 3 in New Jersey, they will certainly carry forward confidence from this game and the resilience they showed throughout their campaign. "I knew we'd bounce back. We've dealt with adversity and injuries all year and I really thought we'd have a great game tonight and we did," DeBoer said. Game 3: at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday (CBC, NBCSN, RDS) Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Wednesday, 02 May 2012 01:33 | Print | PDF
Raise your hands if you had the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings meeting for the right to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Chances are not many hands will go up but starting Sunday night that's exactly what will occur. 3 Phoenix Coyotes 42-27-13 vs 8 Los Angeles Kings 40-27-15 Season Series: The teams have not met since Feb. 21 when the Coyotes scored three power-play goals and overcame a three-goal deficit for a 5-4 victory. The teams split the six-game series with five coming by one goal and three coming by shutout. Jonathan Quick had the first two shutouts for the Kings and Mike Smith had the other for Phoenix at the Staples Center on Feb. 16 in a game that featured a fight between team captains Shane Doan and Dustin Brown. Key Players: Seasoned playoff performer Antoine Vermette has paid off famously as a trade deadline acquisition for the Coyotes. His five goals and nine points lead the team. Significantly, he has bolstered an otherwise tepid power play, scoring three of Phoenix’s five postseason goals with the man advantage. He and Mikkel Boedker have rounded Phoenix’s top six into a formidable group in these playoffs. Martin Hanzal’s return was every bit as critical as HPT predicted in our conference semifinals preview. Hanzal scored the series-winning goal against the Nashville Predators, but he also helped set the tone by setting up an overtime Game 1 winner. The play typified Hanzal’s contributions as he won a critical faceoff forward, took his man out of the play and allowed Ray Whitney to net the game-winning goal. Winning draws, creating space for linemates, going to the net and playing fierce defense are all Hanzal trademarks. For Los Angeles, Brown has led the way with team bests of six goals, 11 points, 31 shots on goal and a plus-9 rating. In fitting fashion, he completed the Kings’ first series sweep of the St. Louis Blues with two goals, including the game-winning goal and an empty netter that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Brown was also instrumental in agitating St. Louis into pointless penalties and pressuring them into untimely turnovers. His aggressive play on the penalty kill led to shorthanded goals in each of the first two games of the series, goals Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called “deflating.” Mike Richards played a similarly hard-nosed, comprehensive game but the key players who went overlooked were Drew Doughty, who logged reliable minutes in all situations and exploded with his third career multi-point playoff game in Game 3, and Anze Kopitar. Kopitar routinely drew two defenders and took a physical pounding in stride to create space for his wingers. His defensive play in the series illustrated why many believe he is among the top five two-way players in the NHL today. Goaltenders:Smith soared into the playoffs having allowed two goals on the last 192 shots he faced in a string of three shutouts and two one-goal games. Since the postseason began, he has been almost as stingy with an 8-3 record, a 1.77 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and two shutouts. Smith weathered a massive storm from Nashville as the Coyotes clung to a 1-0 lead in Game 4 and fended off a frenetic rally to close out the series in Game 5. His $2 million salary has turned out to be bar none the best value of the past offseason as he has erased all memory of the departed Ilya Bryzgalov. Quick has been arguably the most valuable player in the NHL this season and inarguably the best bang for his team’s buck in the NHL with a $1.8 million salary. Quick has posted the best record in these playoffs at 8-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average, a .949 save percentage and a shutout. In a city where the Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez was once the most renowned playoff performer, the phrase “Quickie being Quickie” has gained traction. He has followed up the magnificent regular season that earned him a Vezina nomination with a postseason that has put him in front of a pack of Conn Smythe contenders. He has been spectacular when the Kings were out-possessed, like in Game 2 at Vancouver, and when opponents have sustained tremendous pressure, as St Louis did in the second period of Game 4. What to Expect:Both clubs are built from the back end forward, with superb goaltending, rugged but balanced defense and a mix of forwards with plenty of experience. The Coyotes are a club heavy on 30-something veterans and 40-year-old leading scorer in Whitney. By contrast, the Kings are one of the youngest clubs in the league, but they do not lack playoff seasoning. Cornerstone defensemen like Keith Yandle and the budding star Oliver Ekman-Larsson mesh with a corps that also includes Derek Morris, Rusty Klesla and Michal Rozsival, all veterans who have found a new level of grit in their game. One Western Conference coach said his club was literally afraid to go near the Coyotes' net late in the season. That same coach said the Kings were built similarly, suggesting that the two clubs’ success was bound to create a “copycat” effect league wide. Their group of complimentary parts features three pairings that consist of younger, offensively gifted blue-liner with veteran, reliable, shutdown rearguards. Doughty, who leads their defense, dominated during Canada’s gold medal run in Vancouver in 2010. His partner, Rob Scuderi, won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh. Slava Voynov has been the Pacific Division’s most outstanding rookie, and has been paired with the rough-and-tumble vet Willie Mitchell. Second-year player Alec Martinez skates with Matt Greene, who made a trip to the Finals with Edmonton along with Kings forward Jarret Stoll. Up front, the Coyotes are led by Whitney, top goal-scorer Radim Vrbata, the heady Hanzal, career Coyote Doan, leading playoff scorer Vermette and the fluid Mikkel Boedker. Boedker has added dynamism to the more mature group, giving the Coyotes a threat in transition that scored a pair of game-winners against Chicago in the first round. The Kings feature a white-hot top line of Brown, Kopitar and Justin Williams, won hoisted the Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes. Their second line features Richards and Jeff Carter, a tandem of former Flyers with loads of top-level experience including a Stanley Cup Final run with Philadelphia. A resuscitated Dustin Penner rounds out the line, showing the form he did in 2007 as a Cup winner with Anaheim. Even role players like Stoll and Colin Fraser, who won the Cup with the Blackhawks, have been to the summit previously. This series may be a classic matchup of a club with a closing window and a much younger squad with their best shot to win before the grind of a deep playoff run and the pitfalls of the salary cap put them in a less comfortable position. The two teams took similar routes in a densely packed division. Phoenix ascended from the 12th position in the Western Conference to the third seed and a division crown. The Kings just missed out on that Pacific title with two losses in a home-and-home set with San Jose to close out the season. Both were identified by pro scouts as teams to watch late in the season and neither has disappointed. X-Factor: Ekman-Larsson has emerged from high expectations to provide superb performance. He has quickly developed into one of Phoenix’s ice time leaders, capable of playing smoothly within a tight structure without sacrificing the skill he brings to the table. If the Coyotes hope to match the Kings’ scoring prowess, they will need help from the back end. Ekman-Larsson and Yandle are the club’s dynamic defensemen who have proven capable of providing punch off the blue line. Prediction: Kings in six games. This will be a much tougher test for the Kings than their first two series. Phoenix will limit its opportunities and match their relentlessness, but in the end superior depth and skill will propel the Kings to victory. Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Saturday, 12 May 2012 00:00 | Print | PDF
The Western Conference will be decided by a team with a modest history. It will either be the Phoenix Coyotes or the Los Angeles Kings, teams that appear to have several similarities. Scoot over Original Six, either the Kings or Coyotes are headed to the Stanley Cup Final to write glorious chapters in their own modest histories. The Coyotes advanced to the first conference finals in franchise history Monday while the Kings accomplished that feat Sunday for the second time since they entered the league in 1967. Phoenix edged the Predators 2-1 on Monday, staving off a late rally as Mike Smith stopped 32 of 33 shots, the penalty kill went a perfect 4-for-4 and Martin Hanzal notched the game-winner. The franchise had not won a playoff series in Phoenix prior to this year. When they were the original Winnipeg Jets, they had tremendous regular-season success but seldom got past Alberta titans Calgary and Edmonton, winning just one series against the Flames in 1987. “It’s been hard being a Phoenix Coyotes fan for a few years,” captain Shane Doan told NBC Sports Network. Doan has been a career Coyote, playing with the franchise seemingly since the WHA-NHL merger. Colin Wilson scored with 5:59 to play, sending the Predators on in waves. Smith stood tall, enabling the offensive support he received in the second period from Hanzal and Derek Morris to secure the victory. Phoenix ascended from 12th place in the Western Conference to snag the No. 3 seed. A huge winning streak in February and three straight shutouts down the stretch from Smith catapulted them to the top of a competitive Pacific Division. “We won 11 in a row and you could just feel everyone start to believe, like, ‘Hey, we can beat anybody, we’re confident, we’re a good team’ and it just built from there,” Doan told NBC. The Coyotes not only had a historic night on the ice, but they also received the most encouraging news in months that their club may stay put in the desert. The league-run Coyotes may soon have new ownership in the form of Greg Jamison, the former CEO of the San Jose Sharks. “We have a group that cares deeply about the National Hockey league, they care deeply about hockey, they care deeply about youth hockey and they look forward to being a part of this team,” Jamison told reporters. While the players have focused on executing coach Dave Tippett’s system and battling through a second half that saw four different teams lead their division, they have not been oblivious to the broader struggle. “This organization, this means a lot to them right now to get to this level,” said leading scorer Ray Whitney, who turns 40 today, to NBC. “We don’t talk a whole lot about it but obviously when you’re dealing with the sale of a hockey club that is having success at the time, I’m sure it makes things a little bit easier.” Anchored by their veterans, Phoenix has also gotten serious mileage out of youngsters Mikkel Boedker, who stepped onto the second line for the suspended Raffi Torres, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has become one of their ice time leaders. “We’ve had contributions from some key people at the key times this season," Whitney told NBC. "That’s what you’re going to need. The L.A. Kings will probably say the same thing.  They were not playing their best hockey throughout most of the season but they got in and now look at them. They’re the team that we all thought they were going to be at the start of the season.” Many observers around the league think the Coyotes and Kings, who will meet in the Western Conference Finals after splitting their season series, have more than a team-wide commitment in common. “I think the other lesson for all of us is what’s happening in Phoenix. That group back there on defense was so hard on us, we didn’t want to go anywhere near the net,” said one Western Conference coach, who also said the Kings accomplished similar things with their defense corps. “[Michal] Rozsival, I’ve never seen him play like this, [Rusty] Klesla and these guys, they’re playing mean and hard. That’s the way teams are going to start building, getting back to those nasty guys who play on the back end.” Both teams also have scorching hot goalies, Smith for Phoenix and Vezina Finalist Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles. Quick leads a club filled with playoff and Olympic experience. Yet the Kings, like the Coyotes, do not have the most riveting memoir, lacking playoff success despite being an Expansion Six franchise. Their sweep of the St. Louis Blues was the first in franchise history. Their only other notable playoff run was in 1993 when Wayne Gretzky led them to a Finals loss against Montreal. The Kings became the first eighth seed to beat the top seed and the second seed. Their head coach, Darryl Sutter, was at the helm of the only club to beat the top three seeds in a conference when his 2004 Flames took down the 3rd, 2nd and top seeds in succession before losing to Tampa Bay in the Finals. Los Angeles is now tasked with accomplishing that feat in reverse order, having beaten top-seeded Vancouver, second-place St Louis and, now, facing third-seeded Phoenix. Such a run might supplant the Gretzky years and 1982’s “Miracle on Manchester” as the finest stanza in the less-than-epic poem that has been their franchise history. "It's nice to be involved with a tradition, that's a great thing," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. "It's pretty neat to be a pioneer, too, and that's the way we've got to look at it." Game 1 (Western Conference Finals): at Phoenix, Date/Time TBD Rangers 3, Capitals 2 OT The New York Rangers pulled out a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals, seizing a 3-2 series lead with their second overtime triumph. Brad Richards scored with seven seconds left in regulation and Marc Staal capped off the win 1:35 into overtime. Both goals came on the power play after Game-7 hero Joel Ward took a double-minor penalty for high-sticking with 21 seconds left in regulation. “It’s a kick in the gut when you lose it, because it happens so quickly, and it’s pretty exciting when you win it because it happens so quickly,” Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters. Key faceoff losses by Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks, who had dominated in the circle, contributed to Washington’s undoing as well. The Caps have literally played 98% of their postseason tied or in a one-goal game. Their methodical pace was tested at times by the Rangers, who extended their forecheck and battled more aggressively along the Washington end wall in an effort to control possession and tempo. Tortorella emphasized how critical it was to maintain that striking distance for both teams. He cited the Capitals effort to avoid a two-goal deficit after Anton Stralman opened the scoring for the Rangers as well as his clubs effort not to let the game slip away after John Carlson made it 2-1 Washington. Brooks Laich also scored for Washington. Game 6: at Washington, 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday (CBC, RDS, NBCSN) Photos by Getty Images  
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Tuesday, 08 May 2012 04:29 | Print | PDF
The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils had a spirited regular season series that had many hoping for the same in a postseason match up. While the first three games may have lacked the extra curricular activities of the regular season, Game 4 certainly made up for that. New York Rangers coach John Tortorella pushed a lot of buttons but in the end all he got was a red-lettered screen that read “Game Over.” The Rangers fell 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils on Monday at the Prudential Center, evening their Eastern Conference Finals series at two games apiece. Tortorella began a war of words replete with some thinly veiled “gamesmanship” Sunday. Monday, his club spent much of the night looking for calls and much of the third period taking penalties. “That’s what’s going to happen when you’re playing the same team over and over and over again. You get a little upset at the other guys,” said Devils captain Zach Parise, who added that the Devils have done a good job of avoiding such penalties this postseason. Parise contributed two goals and an assist as the Devils rode a fast start that gave them a 2-0 first intermission lead. Martin Brodeur shifted the spotlight back to his net, holding a shutout through nearly 55 minutes. He stopped 27 of 28 shots he faced and registered an assist. Brodeur was not exempt from the roughhousing, however. He took a swing from former teammate Michael Rupp in the third period, which touched off a melee between the skaters on the ice. “He just turned around and kind of suckered me," Brodeur said. "I’m not used to getting punched but now I know I can take a punch. Stu Bickell sought out Ryan Carter, and the two tussled, each earning game misconducts. Not only did the players on the ice tangle after the play, but the coaches also became heated. Peter DeBoer and Tortorella shouted at each other, leaning into the gap between the benches to exchange pleasantries. Neither coach commented on the incident in detail. The Rangers players were also mostly quiet. “There are going to be situations out there where we get into each other’s faces, that’s playoff hockey,” said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, calling it a “chippy” game. Ryan McDonagh and Adam Henrique fought in the first period. Callahan and Ilya Kovalchuk tangled after the whistle among other confrontations. Moving past the penalty summary and onto the scoresheet, this game essentially ended early. The Devils got goals from Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac. They struck four minutes apart in the middle of the first period. “It really gave our bench a lift when we get that first goal early, especially after being shut out,” Parise said. “We wanted to put pressure on [Henrik] Lundqvist and it was great for everyone, for our team to get a goal early.” Parise added a power-play tally and an empty-netter in the third. They sandwiched the Ruslan Fedotenko goal that broke up Brodeur’s shutout. The series now shortens to a best-of-three with the scene shifting to New York. “I think the intensity is only going to rise from here,” Brodeur said. “There’s a lot at stake and we’re up for the challenge.” Game 5: at New York, 8:00 p.m. ET Wednesday (CBC, RDS, NBCSN) Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Tuesday, 22 May 2012 01:28 | Print | PDF
The focus has been primarily on the Kings' star players during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals but, as Colin Fraser showed on Wednesday, their roleplayers have been just as integral to their success. NEWARK, N.J. – While the Los Angeles Kings’ quartet of marquee names hog the headlines in Hollywood, their role players have been stars in their own right this postseason. In their Game 1 victory over the Devils, Jonathan Quick did not have to be superb in net all night. Drew Doughty was more steady than spectacular. Dustin Brown had what he described as his “worst game” of the postseason. Anze Kopitar shined in overtime but made more of a defensive impact than an offensive one during regulation. It was the Kings’ fourth line that got them on the board early and that gave them energy often. Jordan Nolan dished out four body hits in 11:26 of ice time, continuing his run as a physical force. One of those checks led to a turnover deep in the New Jersey zone and Nolan capitalized, hitting Colin Fraser for a one-time goal to open the scoring. Fraser was the 16th different King to tally this postseason out of just 19 different skaters who have dressed for them. “That’s just the way it’s been going, it’s a huge goal for him, our team and his confidence,” center Jarret Stoll said. “That line played great tonight, they were probably our best line. They were getting in on the fore-check, making plays, having hits, getting chances and creating something every time they got on the ice.” Shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell logged just 50 fewer seconds of ice time than Doughty in a game that was played predominantly five-on-five. Mitchell leads the Western Conference in blocked shots and has been the fulcrum of the Kings’ defense this season. Mitchell said that defined roles, valued ice time and mutual esteem between players and coaches all fed into the top-to-bottom contributions for these Kings. Captain Dustin Brown, who spent the season extolling the merits of a comprehensive effort, said those qualities contributed to the win Wednesday. “I think it’s guys doing the right things whether you’re Anze Kopitar or Colin Fraser,” Brown said. “Everyone’s doing the right thing from top to bottom, first defenseman to sixth defenseman. That goes a long way when you’ve got everyone on board. It also goes a long way toward supporting each other.” The Kings not only have four dangerous lines and three extremely effective pairings, but they also have an ace in the hole. Simon Gagne, a former 40-goal scorer, is available in the event of an injury. Gagne signed a lucrative deal with the Kings this offseason. He recently recovered from a concussion that kept him out since Dec. 26 and could go into the lineup under the right circumstances. Gagne also recognized the value of depth, especially in tight, critical playoff contests. “Depth is going to make the difference in the end,” Gagne said. “It’s not always going to be your top players that’s going to score those goals. Tonight it was Kopi scoring the overtime goal, obviously one of our top players, but if you’re going to win, you’re going to need everyone to chip in.” Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Thursday, 31 May 2012 02:48 | Print | PDF
Every coach has their own lingo and eccentricities for players to get used to. In the case of Darryl Sutter, it took the Kings a bit to catch on. Now that they have, the team has taken off. NEWARK, N.J. – Heading into the season, Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar spoke five languages: Slovene, Serbian, German, Swedish and English. Now, he’s added a sixth: Sutterish. Kings coach Darryl Sutter speaks low in both tone and volume, often delivering meandering statements that are punctuated by two consistently decipherable phrases: “Right?” and “Not hard to figure out.” What comes in between has generally been anyone’s best guess. In fact, in early practices, many of the Kings were competing for spots at the back of the line during drills so they could figure out what was going on. “The first practice we ever had, we didn’t even go to the (dry erase) board,” Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown said. “It was a tough practice because no one knew what we were doing.” Yet the Kings have quickly learned to not only hear Sutter but also to understand and appreciate him. Once a team as wayward as their coach’s sentence structure, they have shaken off underachievement and become odds-on favorites for the Stanley Cup since Sutter replaced Terry Murray back in December. “Darryl brings attention to the emotional side of the game,” Brown said. “It’s hard to play this game when you’re not emotionally attached to it. I think Darryl is really good at pushing your buttons and finding ways to get everyone to where they need to be emotionally to perform well on the ice.” In talking to dozens of his former players, nearly everyone used the words fair, direct and honest when describing Sutter. He has commanded such reverence that even career pros said that they elevated their performance to avoid letting him and, by extension, their teammates down. In 2004, the Calgary Flames accomplished the same feat as the Kings, knocking off the top three seeds in the West en route to the Stanley Cup Final. Martin Gelinas scored all three series-clinching goals. But his historic individual feat came after Sutter delivered the truth bluntly to Gelinas in the first round against Vancouver. “He got me in the room and he said ‘Marty, if I had another left winger, you would not be playing next game,’” said Gelinas, now in the Nashville front office. “As an older guy it took me by surprise and my pride got hurt a little bit. “After that, I realized, all he wants is more from me, more leadership, he wants me to step up my game. And that happened afterward.” Sutter has preached that top players need to be top players, and indeed he has gotten serious mileage from his top six forwards, top four defensemen and starting goaltender. But the Kings have prevailed in critical moments due to the even contribution of their role players as well, much like those Flames. “He makes everybody feel a part of it. Whether you’re a fourth line guy playing two minutes or you’re the top guy playing 20 minutes,” said Craig Conroy, the top center for Calgary in 2004. “He says we’re not gonna do it without every single guy. And you really believe it, some coaches say it but he really believes it deep down.” Sutter uses increased minutes, reduced ice time, encouragement and criticism to reach his players. His hockey philosophy is at once simple, elegant, brutal and driven. “You realize it’s nothing personal,” Gelinas said. “He wants you to bring your game up so that the team can be successful. He can also bring a scathingly sarcastic wit to the table, the kind which might not be appreciate on the receiving end. “He used to say some things and you were like, ‘Really?’” Conroy said. “At the time you didn’t like it. Years later, you look back and laugh and say, ‘I can’t believe he said that to us!” The Flames had a rougher run than the Kings, who are 13-2 in these playoffs. However the Kings have avoided getting drunk off their success the same way the Flames remained resilient in the face of tough losses. “We got beat badly in some of the games, by four, five, six goals maybe,” Conroy said. “He said that was one game, let’s just move forward. If we won 1-0 or we lost 6-1, he never made us feel like we were out of anything. He always said ‘It takes four to win a series.’” No matter how garbled Sutter’s public persona may be, his message to his players is as clear as his mission. Now, he and the Kings sit just three wins away from accomplishing it. Not hard to figure it out … right? Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Features | Friday, 01 June 2012 01:24 | Print | PDF
They may be opponents in the Stanley Cup Final, but general managers Dean Lombardi and Lou Lamoriello have a relationship that is more than just a mutual respect. A relationship that has helped mold Lombardi into the general manager he is today. NEWARK, N.J. – With their teams at each other’s throats, the start of the Stanley Cup Final did not strike Lou Lamoriello and Dean Lombardi as the moment for a love fest. But the two general managers, brimming with mutual esteem, turned their moment at the mic into just that. “It’s like having a godfather,” said Lombardi of Lamoriello. “He sees you’re going through a little thing and boom here comes the call. He’s not going to tell you what to do but just keep believing in yourself.” Their relationship began in the mid-90s when Lombardi was with the San Jose Sharks organization. Through a mutual friend, Jack Ferrara, Lombardi reached out to Lamoriello for advice. “He was very sincere. I think he would do that for anyone," Lamoriello said. "He just wanted to talk about philosophic things and structure. I tried to help him in any way I could and answer questions. “What help you are, you don’t know, but we spent a lot of time.” In fact, the lengthy meeting was a tremendous help to Lombardi, who called it one of the three great turning points of his career. “I’ll never forget it, for three hours he talked all about infrastructure,” Lombardi said. “He did not talk about players. His organizational chart, the system, the values you put in place. It was all about infrastructure and establishing a culture.” Lamoriello imparted wisdom to Lombardi, giving him both an organizational structure chart and a sheet of inspirational quotes. “When people are on you and you’re starting to doubt yourself, here, you take these out and then read these quotes about conviction and standing by it,” Lombardi said. “It all came down to believing in yourself and doing things right as opposed to what perception says.” Lamoriello’s structure and approach became central to Lombardi’s philosophy. He even followed the introspective model of evaluating his own performance. “At the end of every year, write down your five mistakes. Unfortunately, I keep having more than five,” Lombardi joked. Both men are Italian-Americans from New England, a natural bond strengthened considerably by their similar approaches. “He was the first American GM and that wasn’t an easy thing to do, for a guy who didn’t play in the league," Lombardi said of his counterpart. "He’s also a pioneer, in a way he broke ground for even those he didn’t touch. “His resume speaks for itself. As you know, he doesn’t talk about himself. He doesn’t have to.” As far as establishing infrastructure, identity and organizational culture, Lombardi said the Kings still had a lot of work to do. He pointed to the banners hanging in the Devils’ Prudential Center as the goal toward which he strived, salary cap era be damned. Jack Ferrara’s faith in Lombardi and former Flyers GM Bobby Clarke’s rescuing him from an ocean of self-doubt after he was fired by the Sharks were Lombardi’s other two turning points. “(Lamoriello and Clarke) are totally different but their values are the same," Lombardi said. "It’s no-nonsense, it’s about team and it’s about doing things right. Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Saturday, 02 June 2012 10:06 | Print | PDF
Drew Doughty drew a lot of criticism during training camp this season, holding out before signing a new, eight-year contract. Now, in the playoffs, he's finally looking like he was worth the wait. NEWARK, N.J.- At 20 years old, Drew Doughty was a Norris Trophy nominee and a leader for Team Canada when it won Olympic gold on its home soil. In the playoffs, he has dazzled with a four-point game in 2010, three-point games each of the last year two seasons and a magnificent defensive effort in these playoffs. He has bottled up the New Jersey Devils' top forwards. In Game 2, the Los Angeles Kings' defenseman scored a goal reminiscent of Scott Niedermayer and came within centimeters of netting the overtime winner. And there was a question whether or not to pay this guy? “He’s a bright lights type of player,” said Doughty’s former defense partner Willie Mitchell, who called him arguably Canada's best player in Vancouver. “He’s always been that,” His youthful enthusiasm and freewheeling moments have sometimes overshadowed the improved, steady play he has shown. Kings captain Dustin Brown said that Doughty has intensified his preparation and sharpened up his defensive play. Still, he is at his best when he can let his youthful exuberance flow fluidly within the Kings’ tightly structured system. “For Dewey, he’s a kid,” Brown said. “He plays his best when he’s having fun and right now he’s having loads of fun. Tonight, he was our best player.” Before the season, Doughty, a restricted free agent, held out through training camp, ultimately signing an eight-year, $56 million deal that made him the Kings’ highest- paid player. “For a young guy, I can speak to that, getting a big contract, you’re no longer the young guy that everybody’s happy that he’s just playing so well, now it’s ‘You better playwell’ because you have to justify contract,” Kings winger Dustin Penner said. “Once he got accustomed to that pressure and used it in a positive way, you could see him start to excel every day. The goal tonight was one of those ‘wow’ moments, at least for me.” Doughty has drawn praise from his teammates for improved conditioning, practice habits and leadership skills. Still, he has become a big-ticket player because he possesses that which cannot be taught. “When the game’s on the line, he raises his level of play," Mitchell said. "He’s a winner. He wants to win and really enjoy the limelight. He likes that stage and he wants to be the guy who makes the difference. “You don’t grow into that, I don’t think. It’s either in you or not in you. I think that’s been in him since he’s been a kid and it’ll continue to be in him forever, lucky for us.” Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Sunday, 03 June 2012 03:28 | Print | PDF
Jeff Carter's 2011-12 campaign hasn't always ben easy but, with the series heading back to Los Angeles, it may have his storybook ending yet. NEWARK, N.J. – Jeff Carter’s season has been the stuff of a Lifetime movie, but it seems now that it will have the most heartwarming of endings. First, he had to part ways with his longtime best friend Mike Richards, as they were exiled to different locales from Philadelphia, where Carter had just signed an 11-year contract extension. He landed in Columbus, a young club with high aspirations and a payroll to match. The Blue Jackets plummeted in the standings as injuries and mixed form made a Carter more a part of the problem than the solution in the eyes of some. Then, he was shipped out again, to the Los Angeles Kings, where his old running mate Mike Richards was waiting with open arms and a spare room. They were reunited on a would-be contender that sought offense desperately. “He knew we needed offensive scoring punch," said Dustin Penner, the third man on Carter and Richards’ line. "He came in and he had familiarity with Richards, I think that helped a lot. “Any time you get traded, especially with a 10- or a 12-year deal, but it’s probably disheartening when you expect to be part of a franchise for a long time. They pretty much guarantee it without saying, but when you’re in a (long) deal, you’re expecting to be there.” In a sequence emblematic of his whirlwind season, Carter’s audacious effort won Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final for the Kings. He received the puck in the neutral zone, curled at the red line, gained the offensive zone, threw the puck in front for Penner, circled behind the net, retrieved his own wide centering attempt and fired a wrist shot from the left slot that beat Martin Brodeur between his right pad and blocker. The eight-second sequence was almost as dizzying as a trip from Philadelphia to Columbus to Los Angeles … on the back of a puma. Carter has made an impact on the Kings in numerous ways, some less obvious than others. His goal Saturday, his natural hat trick in the Western Conference Final and the space he creates for teammates are clear enough. The upgrade in team speed he provided, his under-recognized defensive contributions and the effect he has on the Kings lineup have largely flown under the radar. Carter rounded out the Kings' top six, moved Jarret Stoll back into his natural position and status as a third-line center and coincided with the recall of Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. “He solidified our lineup depth-wise and made us a lot better team,” Stoll said. “Big goal, huge goal for him and for our team.” Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Sunday, 03 June 2012 03:37 | Print | PDF
Willie Mitchell has been a fan favorite in just about every city he's played in. His steady play has finally been rewarded, however, as Mitchell and the Kings are now two games from the Stanley Cup. NEWARK, N.J.- What a long, strange trip it's been for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell. His journey to Stanley Cup glory began in New Jersey and depending on how the series unfolds it may end there with his hoisting the Cup as a member of the Kings. "To kind of come full circle, come back to where I got learned so much and got my start and do that against a great organization, great people and such a winning tradition, it feels good," Mitchell said. Mitchell was a long shot to make the NHL, an eighth-round pick identified by the Devils scouting staff. He played sparingly in parts of two seasons in New Jersey. During their 2000 Stanley Cup winning season, Mitchell was a black ace and stood off to the side and watched the Devils celebrate. When he had the opportunity to go to the parade, he opted not to for two reasons. First, he was not a part of the playoff run and second, he wanted to get the hell out of a Turtlebrook Inn in West Orange, N.J. Now, 719 regular-season games later, Mitchell reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Previously, his deepest run was with Minnesota in 2003, going to the Western Conference Final under former Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. "At the time you probably thought it might happen a little bit sooner than it does to get the chance so I'm looking forward to this chance and having a moment like that," Mitchell said. The Kings are one of the youngest clubs in the league. They feature three rookies and a host of Stanley Cup Final neophytes. Yet the 35-year-old Mitchell beamed for the long layoff between the Final and the Phoenix Coyotes series. "All week in practice you could kind of sense him saying 'Can we get this going right now?' He's a very intense player who's unbelievable defensively" center Mike Richards said. Mitchell has done his part and then some. His long reach, active stick, big body, sharp instincts and willing to sacrifice his body have continued to play a large part in the Kings' success. "He keeps pucks out of our net, keeps guys from getting to the net and his big long stick does a lot of damage out there with defensive play,” center Jarret Stoll said. “He does a lot for us.” He also has been critical in shutting down the Devils' top offensive players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias. "He's one of those players that's very important to their success. He plays a lot of important minutes, kills penalties and sees a lot of time against our top two lines," said Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador at the outset of the series."It's those unsung heroes that make the difference in this type of series." Elias was in New Jersey when Mitchell debuted and so was Devils assistant Larry Robinson. One day, Elias drove Mitchell nuts during a special teams practice where Mitchell was matched up with the Czech's power play unit. "He kept sucking me in and Larry Robinson skated over to me and said 'Don't take the candy,'" said Mitchell, pointing to it as a subtle but distinct, career-changing moment. Mitchell landed in Los Angeles before last season and signed a two-year extension this year. He was coming off a serious concussion that caused him to miss nearly half of the 2009-2010 season while skating with the Vancouver Canucks. "I wasn't watching then. The added stress of watching the Finals going through an injury like that, it wasn't good for the brain," Mitchell said. "The stress of not doing I loved so much wasn't going to allow me to get better." Mitchell resumed watching during last year's Final as his former mates from Vancouver fell to Boston in seven games. This year, he hopes to be one of the players kissing Lord Stanley's Cup. "Watching whoever it is hoist that big mug over their head is probably the most motivating thing you can watch as a professional hockey player," Mitchell said. Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Latest Headlines | Monday, 04 June 2012 18:00 | Print | PDF

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