It’s a testament to the depth and opportunism of the Los Angeles Kings that they’ve extended the defending champs to a seventh game in the Western Conference finals while getting so little from some of their biggest stars.
Sure, defenseman Drew Doughty has taken his game to another level against the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s in that zone where he can dictate the flow of a game, taking control with his speed, his puck movement or his physical presence. He’s been worth the price of admission by himself.
And full marks to the Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli-Tanner Pearson line. They’ve been the best, most consistent unit in all three zones in this series and have practically carried Los Angeles’ offense by themselves, accounting for nine goals and 20 points.
They’ve lived up to their end of the bargain. But if the Kings are going to knock off the ‘Hawks at the United Center tonight, they need more than a few moving parts. It’s time for their best players to finally be their best players.
That starts with Anze Kopitar. The big center was in beast mode through the first two rounds, getting the better of the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and Ducks MVP-finalist Ryan Getzlaf, but his efficiency has been muted against the ‘Hawks. Yes, he’s chipped in four assists, been solid in his own zone and has dominated the faceoff circle in four of the six games. But for the most part he and fellow Selke Trophy nominee Jonathan Toews have settled for negating each other in this series, right down to splitting their 76 draws against each other at 38 apiece.
The problem is you don’t move on in the playoffs by swapping punches. You win by knocking the other guy out. It’s too much to expect Kopitar to dominate Toews over the course of a series, but he can certainly get the best of him for one night.
And then there’s Jonathan Quick, saddled with an unlikely .902 save percentage through the first six games of the series. In four of those contests, he’s been at .889 or lower and allowed at least three goals. That’s just not good enough. Not to knock off the champs, anyway.
Give the Blackhawks some credit here. With all that talent wearing red and black they have a knack for slapping goalies down a few pegs on the ol’ confidence pole (hope you enjoyed your stay in St. Louis, Mr. Miller). And you can’t blanket Quick with blame when his defense fails to clear the redwoods from the crease, is slow retrieving rebounds or blows coverage that allows an attacker a FastPass to the net.
But Quick isn’t just another goalie. He’s an Olympic starter and a Conn Smythe winner. A guy with a reputation for being the one you want in net in a win-or-go-home situation like this. He’s been good at times for the Kings. He’s made some big stops in this series — no one will forget that ridiculous glove save on Patrick Sharp to deny that two-man breakaway in Game 6 — but he hasn’t made enough of them. Or, more to the point, he hasn’t made enough of them at key moments.
It’s unfair to expect him to put together another record-setting run like he did in 2012, but Quick has yet to be a difference-maker in this series. We know he can steal a game on his own. And unless Los Angeles’ defense suddenly solves the magic of Patrick Kane, he might have to.