Line-shuffling helped Kings rally for Game 1 victory
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter is not shy about taking away ice time from any of his players when they aren't playing at the standard he demands, but the way he jumbled his forward lines in Game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final was a bit of an anomaly in this postseason.
Part of it was the timing. Sutter started his line-shuffling before the first period was over, right after the New York Rangers took a two-goal lead.
Part of it was the fact it was a full four-line shake-up. When Sutter changed things earlier this postseason, it often was one or two tweaks. This was all four centers moving to a different line.The first shift after Carl Hagelin's shorthanded goal at 15:03 of the first period was still part of a power play. Los Angeles' first group at even strength was Jarret Stoll, usually the No. 3 center, with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, who typically play with Jeff Carter.
Carter came next with Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford, who are typically part of the fourth line. Mike Richards went from playing with Lewis and Clifford to top-line duty, and Anze Kopitar moved down to play where Stoll does.
"Partway through the first period, once I recognized guys didn't have their game ... it was a lot of guys," Sutter said. "Jeff played a lot with Kyle and Trevor. [Stoll] played with everybody. Basically we were trying to manage [Kopitar's] game."
Kopitar has been Los Angeles' top forward this postseason and a top candidate, along with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Kopitar leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 24 points, and Carter is one behind after a huge Western Conference Final.
The Slovenian center has no goals and five points in his past eight games after shredding the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks for five goals and 19 points in the Kings' first 14 games. Sutter eventually put Kopitar back with Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown for what became a dominant third period, but the other lines remained scrambled and were mixed again in overtime.
Justin Williams scored the overtime goal while playing on a line with Richards and Pearson. With no whistle in overtime before the goal at 4:36, Carter played on the wing with Kopitar and Gaborik, Stoll took a shift with Brown, and Dwight King and Lewis shifted to center and played with Clifford and Toffoli.
"I think we started out slow. We didn't have our legs I think from puck drop," Carter said. "When you get down 2-0, you've got to do something to kind of get everybody going. Flip-flopped a little bit there. It started working for us, so we kept going with it."
As the Kings have so many times in this postseason, they played their way back into it. Los Angeles picked up a surprising goal from Clifford, his first in his past 37 playoff games, and a highlight-reel score from Doughty to tie the score.
The Kings then started to control the play at even strength, and with the new lines pressed Lundqvist and the Rangers until they cracked. Defenseman Dan Girardi had a giveaway in overtime, and Richards fed Williams for a goal from the left hash marks.
"Last night certainly wasn't the start we wanted," Kopitar said. "The first period was sloppy more often than not. But we've done it how many times? We came back and managed to win the game. I think that's obviously a positive that we did pull it off. But we can't put ourselves in a hole against a team like that where they keep coming and they have a lot of firepower that can hurt you pretty quick. Definitely want to have better starts in a couple days and we'll see what happens after that."