Mike Richards, it sounds like anyway, kept his word to the Mad Professor.

Faced with the possibility of his contract being bought out by the Stanley Cup champions, the 29-year-old Richards vowed to Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi in June that he would be more committed to his workouts this summer to help bring back the Mike Richards of old. He would commit himself to trying to bring back the player whom Lombardi traded for in the summer of 2011, the one who helped transform the Kings from pretenders into winners.

"This summer, I put in the work," Richards told ESPN.com over the phone Monday. "Of course, injuries can happen, but at least going into the season right now, I feel good and I’ve skated a lot more than I have in the past. I feel prepared, and I’m excited for the year."

As Richards pointed out, it's hard to know exactly how that translates to his on-ice performance once the season starts, but he says he feels much better at this point than he did a year ago.

Just in case, Lombardi did drop in on Richards in mid-August in the player’s hometown of Kenora, Ontario. Now, you can look up Kenora on Google Maps, but getting to that northern Ontario town is not exactly a swift trip.

[+] EnlargeMike Richards
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesMike Richards said, in the past, he didn't work as hard in the offseason as he should have to be ready for the start of the season.
But Lombardi made it indeed.

"He came up to Kenora; he was there for about five hours, I think. It’s not exactly the easiest place to get into," chuckled Richards.

"He flew the night before to Winnipeg, drove up to Kenora, we woke up, worked out, and then he left. It was a pretty quick trip for him."

You can’t blame the Kings GM for wanting to see for himself.

A year ago, Richards wasn't in good enough shape coming into camp, and he was chasing the rest of the season, to the point where he became a fourth-line center late in the season and in the playoffs.

It’s why there was so much angst for Lombardi, who adores Richards, as he knew that this was the final window in the new CBA to buy out a player without it counting against a team’s salary cap.

Richards has six years left on his deal, counting $5.75 million against the cap. No small decision.

"After the season, we sat down, actually had two meetings, lengthy meetings, really just to talk about everything," recalled Richards. "We talked about how I played, what I wanted to do, and what he wanted me to get back to. We laid it all out on the table. Obviously he likes me as a player and wants me to be part of the team, and I want to be there, too. He more or less just told me I had to get back to what I was doing a few years ago when I was having success, rather than the past couple of seasons, especially last year when I didn’t play the way I wanted to other than the ending."

The ending saw Richards play his best hockey of the season as the Kings won another Cup, yet mostly as a fourth-line center. Sure, he still got some power-play time and played in key situations -- so not your average fourth-line center -- but at the end of the day, his stock had fallen.

"Obviously winning cures all, and you’re happy about winning, but I don’t picture myself as a fourth-line player," said Richards.

"I still feel like I can play at a high level and play against the other team’s best players and not be a hazard when you’re on the ice."

The drop to fourth-line center hit home.

"I’m not happy being in that role, even though you’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win," said Richards. "But you feel you can do more to put yourself, prepare yourself, to be in a better situation. It was definitely a learning experience last year, maybe even a little bit of an eye-opener where you might take things for granted, or take having success for granted. We won, which is a good thing, but you feel like you can contribute to the team more and you don’t want to be put in that position again. And to be honest, I deserved to be put in that position last year."

There’s some humility and honesty that comes through here. And no doubt it’s what came across in those meetings with Lombardi before the Kings GM had to decide on the player’s future.

We shared Lombardi’s viewpoint on deciding not to buy out Richards in a June 25 article.

No real surprise that Lombardi would give Richards the benefit of the doubt, although the player was still a bit nervous before those end-of-season meetings.

"My relationship with Dean is pretty good. I know he’s a fan of me as a hockey player and a person," said Richards. "But at the end of the day, he’s got to do what’s best for the team, too. I guess you kind of have doubts. All I wanted is to be part of the Kings; I never looked at it as a bonus in the financial sense of maybe getting bought out and signing somewhere else. I like it in L.A., my family likes it there, my girlfriend comes down to visit once in a while and she likes it there, too. So I really didn’t want to become a free agent and leave. I want to be part of the Kings for a long time. So I was a little nervous from that point; even though I didn’t think Dean would do it, there’s always that chance that it could happen if he thought I couldn’t be the player I was before. If he thought I was on the downward track, maybe he would have done what was best for the team and bought me out. But it’s good to see he has confidence I can be back to being that player. It’s not easy working out every day and pushing towards it, but I’ve done it before and I felt I could do it. I gave him my word I would work towards being the player I was before."

According to Richards, there were indeed changes in his summer workouts.

"I worked out with trainers for the first time in a long time," he said. "I never felt that I needed to be pushed off the ice to work out, but I think it’s good to have somebody there, first to make sure that you’re going every day, and secondly to help me with different things; even just having a guy there to spot you so you can do that extra round, or having a guy there to make sure you’re doing the right technique and you don’t hurt yourself. You can push yourself harder in different areas. It was nice to have someone there that if there’s a day you don’t feel like going, he’s there to push you, so you don’t take the easy way out.

"I think before, not that I didn’t work hard, but I think I just took it for granted, where stuff was going on and you could skip a workout a day or two and not think it would be problem ... and then at the end of the summer, you’re probably not in the best shape you need to be in going into a season."

Did he do enough? How much better is Richards going to be this season? Will we ever see the Mike Richards of old or at something close to it?

Not even Richards can answer those questions yet. His play will do the talking, either way, in the coming months and when training camp opens at the end of the week.

What he does know is that it's been an experience.

"You live and learn," said Richards. "You take things for granted sometimes when you’re having success. Things that were working when you had success suddenly aren’t working anymore when you’re five or six years older, when you have to work a little harder. Definitely a learning curve."

Vet Regehr gets his Cup-winning memory

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
2:53
AM PT

LOS ANGELES -- It was eating at Darryl Sutter.

He went back and forth in his mind in the 24 hours leading up to Game 5, but in the end the Los Angeles Kings coach had to tell Robyn Regehr again that Regehr wouldn't be playing despite having gotten a clean bill of health earlier in the series.

"He'd been out so long, that's your biggest concern," said Sutter. "Quite honestly, I thought about it again this morning, about how much trust you have in everybody."

Regehr was injured May 3 at Anaheim in Game 1 of that second-round series. He got clearance to play after Game 1 of the Cup finals, but Sutter just didn't want to mess with a winning lineup, not to mention throw a player back in at this stage who hadn’t played in a month. One can see his thinking there. But it wasn't easy on the coach.

Add in the fact Sutter coached Regehr in Calgary when the Flames lost a heartbreaking 2004 Stanley Cup finals in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning and you know how much the Kings coach wanted this for Regehr, who had never won a Cup before.

But perhaps the perfect moment finally came when Kings captain Dustin Brown made Regehr the first player he would hand the Cup to Thursday night.

What a moment.

"By Brownie doing that, it tells you how they feel about each other," Sutter said of his close-knit team.

Regehr, 34, was thrilled when Brown looked to him with the Cup handoff.

"It was amazing," said Regehr. "I had a little bit of an idea. Matt [Greene] and some of the other veteran guys were talking about it before, and [maybe they] just said [to Brown], ‘If you wanted to give it to Marian first,’ but I guess they thought I was older than him, so I have a little more seniority. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s taken me 15 years. I got within a goal about 10 years ago. Just to get back here again was just awesome.

"I'm just excited about the winning," said Regehr, who played in eight postseason games because of the injury and did not play at all in the final two rounds. Not that any of that dulled Regehr’s moment with the world’s most recognizable trophy. "I didn't really know how it would feel,” he said. "I had a hard time tying my skates, I was so excited to come out here."

Regehr approved a trade to Los Angeles from the Buffalo Sabres two years ago just for this reason: to have a chance to win his first Cup.

"It's a huge part of it because that's what it's all about," said Regehr. "It’s about being involved with a championship-winning team. Now I can check that box. Talking to the guys that had done it before -- it’s something they’ll remember and cherish forever. Now I’ll have the feelings and memories forever."

Rangers pretty good at staying alive

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
12:53
PM PT
Not in Our House! The Rangers have won seven straight home games when facing elimination and will need another one Wednesday night. According to Elias, that seven-game home streak is tied for an NHL record. The only other teams to win seven straight home games in that scenario were the Red Wings (twice, from 1934-40 and 1949-55) and Canadiens (1941-50).

Kings aiming to end the sweep drought

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
3:10
PM PT
Sweep Drought to End? Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Kings could end the longest sweep drought (14 years) in a championship round in major pro sports history. The last Stanley Cup finals sweep came in 1998 by the Detroit Red Wings over the Washington Capitals. The next longest such drought is 12 years (MLB from 1977-88, and NBA from 1947-58).
We're down to the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers. So who will win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP? Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun weigh in while connecting for cross-country flights. Go!

BURNSIDE: Good day, my friend. I'm awaiting a flight westward in Chicago, and I must admit this whole Western Conference beauty remains a bit of a blur. Still can’t believe the Chicago Blackhawks couldn't close the deal after leading Game 7 by 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 counts, but that’s a credit to a Kings team that simply wouldn’t stay down on the mat. Not that they didn’t have their down moments against the defending Stanley Cup champs, blowing a 3-1 series lead with two straight losses that included blown third-period leads of their own. But here they are in the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three years, and they will have home-ice advantage against the surprising Rangers. I know you covered the Eastern Conference finals, and I know from your preview that you like the Kings’ chances at winning their second Cup over that same three-year period. But I don't think it's going to be as easy as some people think. The Kings left a lot on the table against Chicago. A lot. Dustin Brown called it the most emotional playoff series in which he has ever participated. Which leads us to the topic for our little tête-à-tête today, which is: Who is shaping up to be a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate? Let’s start with the favored Kings. I’ll toss out Jeff Carter’s name. He scored his ninth goal of the playoffs in Game 7 and led all players in the West finals with 11 points. He has been a force and a major factor in the surprising contributions of kids Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.

LEBRUN: I’m catching a flight from Toronto to LAX later today, my friend. See you soon! Yes, as you saw in my Cup finals preview, although I do like the Kings to win the Cup, I suggested the Rangers will push them to seven games. Despite the superiority gap the West has over the East in general, the fact that the Kings had to work so hard to finish off the Blackhawks gives the Rangers an edge, due to L.A.'s fatigue level entering this series. Not to mention, Henrik Lundqvist over an inconsistent Jonathan Quick is another factor. So I do not think it’s going to be easy, by any measure. The taxing reality of having to beat the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago over 21 grueling games has really tested what I think the Kings have left. As for the Conn Smythe, although I agree Carter has been terrific, I think it goes without saying that if we held the vote today, Drew Doughty would win in a landslide. The dude is simply the best defenseman in the NHL. He leads all Kings and Rangers in ice time in these playoffs at 27:50 a game. Offense, defense, special teams, leadership, physicality -- Doughty does it all. And let’s not forget the Conn Smythe is for the entire playoffs. I agree Carter was sensational in the Western finals, but Doughty has been out of this world since Day 1 in mid-April.

BURNSIDE: I agree with you on Doughty. He’s at the emotional core of the Kings, and in fact it was interesting to hear Brown, the Kings’ captain, talk about the need for his teammates to sometimes calm Doughty down and keep him focused the right way. "I guess the way to kind of explain it [is] Dewy gets pretty emotional out there, and sometimes it takes one or two guys to go over there and calm him down. Then, he’s great. He gets very emotional, which I love, but sometimes he lets it get the best of him. Once somebody calms him down, then he takes over the game. He can use that emotion the right way." Doughty leads all defensemen with 16 points and has logged more ice time in the playoffs than any other player -- by a country mile. If he keeps up his current level of play, he’s going to make everyone in the Eastern Conference forget about Montreal’s great P.K. Subban, and if that’s the case, he’ll make a compelling case for a playoff MVP award. But what about the Kings’ calming presence in the locker room and on the ice, Anze Kopitar? He leads all playoff performers with 24 points and has registered at least a point in 17 of 21 games. Amazing. He played head-to-head with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews all series long, and I’m guessing he’ll see a lot of the Rangers’ top line in the finals as well. Definitely a worthy candidate.

LEBRUN: No question in my mind that Kopitar would be my next choice after Doughty. The Selke Trophy finalist has gone head-to-head with the likes of Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Toews in these playoffs and more than held his own, in some cases winning outright those key battles. No offense to the Rangers, but if Kopitar is matched up with Derek Stepan, that’s a bit of a step down from the previous centers he saw in these playoffs. Certainly, to me, it’s a 1-2 race of Doughty and Kopitar for Conn Smythe, and I agree Carter is a solid No. 3. What about the Rangers? As stated above, the Blueshirts have a better shot than we would have thought a week ago because of the Kings’ marathon Western finals. And if the Rangers do win the Cup, it’s because of Lundqvist. Although I suspect stud blueliner Ryan McDonagh also would garner some Conn Smythe traction if the Rangers win the Cup -- he’s been out of this world all postseason -- I still think that if New York pulls off the upset, it’s because King Henrik stumped the Kings. That, combined with his stellar play for most of the postseason, would get him a no-brainer Conn Smythe.

BURNSIDE: The discussion is pretty heavily weighted toward the Kings, and I think there’s ample reason for that. But, like you, I think this has the potential to be a long series, given the Kings’ heavy workload thus far and the extra rest the Rangers enjoyed after dispatching the Habs in six games. Everyone will point to Lundqvist as the Rangers’ prime Conn Smythe candidate, and it’s hard to argue with that. Except for a slight wobble in Game 5, he’s been pretty terrific since the Rangers fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the second round. If the Rangers push this to seven games, I could see a scenario in which Lundqvist earns MVP honors even if the Rangers can’t complete the dream run to a Cup championship. That said, the only other player I think has a chance to enter the discussion for the Rangers is Martin St. Louis. There’s the emotional aspect of what St. Louis has been through: losing his mother in the midst of the Pittsburgh series and continuing to play -- and play exceptionally well. And as the playoffs have gone on, he has become better and better. His overtime winner against the Habs in Game 4 was a series changer, as it gave the Rangers a 3-1 series lead that forced the Habs into full catch-up mode. You know he has the will and the skill to do more damage in the finals, and if the Rangers happen to effect the upset, I'm guessing St. Louis will have a hand in it and thus play a big role come voting time for the MVP honors.

LEBRUN: The emotion that has wrapped this Rangers team ever since Martin St. Louis’ mother passed away unexpectedly on May 8 has been incredible. The players have rallied around St. Louis, and he has responded through adversity by playing his best hockey of the season. It’s why there’s a sense of destiny around this team, even if they are the underdogs. I still think, though, that if the Rangers upset the Kings, that win nets Lundqvist the Conn Smythe.

Well, my friend, before the day is over, we’ll be drinking diet soda together. Safe travels. Hoping this is a terrific Cup finals.

Looking at another Kings-Canadiens final?

May, 16, 2014
May 16
3:56
PM PT
Deja vu all over again: The Pacific Division-champion Anaheim Ducks host the Los Angeles Kings Friday night in Game 7. If the Ducks lose, there will be no division champions in the conference finals. The last time the conference finals didn't feature a division champion was 1992-93 (Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders all advanced). That season, the Canadiens and Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. Deja vu in 2014?

Ducks' chances looking Mighty good

May, 16, 2014
May 16
9:46
AM PT
Western Conference Second Round – Game 7
Kings at Ducks, 9 ET (Series tied, 3-3)


Looking for an omen in this game?

Look no further than "The Mighty Ducks" -- the movie that spawned the Anaheim Ducks franchise. Corey Perry plays for the Ducks. He is their best goal scorer and one of the league's best players. Adam Banks was the best player on The Mighty Ducks, their best goal scorer and also one of the best players in the league.

One might say Corey Perry Corey Perry is the Adam Banks of this team. celebrates his birthday on Friday, and the actor who plays Adam Banks -- Vincent Larusso -- also celebrates his birthday on Friday.

The final game of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs will take place on Friday night, as the Kings visit the Ducks in Game 7. This will be the 27th game of the second round, tying the record for most games played in the round since the playoff field expanded to eight teams in 1968. This is the fourth All-California Game 7 in NHL history, and the Kings have won the first three.

* If the Kings win, it will be the first time in Stanley Cup playoff history that a team won consecutive series in a single season despite losing three straight games in each of them
* Kings: 5-0 in games when facing elimination in 2014 playoffs (4-0 in first-round series vs San Jose and Game 6 of this series)
21-26 all-time in games when facing playoff elimination
* Kings: 5-4 all-time in Game 7s (won last 2); 3-3 on road in Game 7s (won Game 7 at San Jose in first round)
* Anze Kopitar (LA): leads postseason in assists (13) and points (17); has points in 5 of first 6 games in series (0 G, 7 A)
* Marian Gaborik (LA): leads all players in goals during 2014 playoffs with 8 – 1 shy of career-high for a single postseason (had 9 goals in 18 games in 2003 playoffs with MIN)
* Ducks: last remaining regular-season division winner in 2014 playoffs (won Pacific Division)
* Ducks: 2-3 all-time in Game 7s (lost last 2); 1-1 at home in Game 7s (beat Phoenix in 1997 conference quarterfinals, lost to Detroit in 2013 conference quarterfinals)
* Ducks: leads all teams in postseason in power-play goals (12); 8-25 (32.0 pct) on power play at home in 2014 playoffs
* Corey Perry: 29th birthday
* Ryan Getzlaf (ANA): tied for 2nd in playoff scoring with 14 points (4 G, 10 A); 7 pts (1 G, 6 A) in first 6 games of this series (0 pts in Game 6)

Ducks-Kings battle gets simplified

May, 12, 2014
May 12
4:28
PM PT

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Battle of SoCal is down a simple scenario.

"It's a best-of-three now," Kings captain Dustin Brown said Monday morning ahead of Game 5. "It's a long way to win that first one. I can't really disagree with that."

The Kings have lost two straight after opening with a pair of wins at Honda Center. They were shut out by rookie John Gibson on Saturday night and know they'll face him again in Game 5.

"I think it is just finishing chances we had," Brown said. "We had a lot of really good chances but didn't put them in the net. Gibson played well, but at the same time we need to bear down when we get those Grade-A scoring chances."

The Ducks are expected to get center Mathieu Perreault back for Game 5 after he missed one game. But Matt Beleskey remains out. Devante Smith-Pelly replaced Beleskey on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Game 4 and opened the scoring. He looked good on that top unit.

"I thought I did pretty well, not bad," Smith-Pelly said. "Playing with those guys, I just have to do my thing and let them play their game. If I try and play like them, I probably won’t do too well. As long as I’m able to play my game, I’ll be able to help."

Ducks forward lines from the morning skate:

Devante Smith-Pelly-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano-Saku Koivu-Jakob Silfverberg
Daniel Winnik-Nick Bonino-Kyle Palmieri
Patrick Maroon-Mathieu Perreault-Teemu Selanne

The Kings did not show lines. Here’s how they lined up for Game 4, when head coach Darryl Sutter scrambled his lines:

Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Tanner Pearson-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Trevor Lewis-Tyler Toffoli

But things might very well change for Game 5 Monday night.

W2W4: Key stats for Monday's games

May, 12, 2014
May 12
2:10
PM PT
Eastern Conference second round – Game 6
Bruins at Canadiens, 7:30 ET (Bruins lead series, 3-2)

* Bruins: 3-11 all-time in playoff games at MTL with chance to clinch series (lost last) (last win in MTL with chance to clinch series: 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinals Game 4 – won 4-1)
* Bruins: 2-4 on power play in Game 5 win (0-8 on power play in 1st 4 games of series)
* P.K. Subban (MTL): leads all defensemen in playoff scoring with 12 points (4 G, 8 A); 7 points (4 G, 3 A) in 5 games in this series (had 1 assist in 4 games vs BOS during regular season)
* Canadiens: 1-9 (11.1 pct) on power play in 4 home games this postseason (Max Pacioretty GWG goal in Game 4 of first round vs TB); 7-20 (35.0 pct) on power play in 5 road games during 2014 postseason

Western Conference second round – Game 5
Kings at Ducks, 10 ET (Series tied, 2-2)

* Road teams has won 1st 4 games of series -- road team has not won the 1st 5 games of a series since 2004 Western Conference finals between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks (home team won 1st 5 games, Flames won at home to win series in Game 6) The Flames coach that season was current Kings coach Darryl Sutter.
* Kings: won last 4 road playoff games (Games 5 & 7 in first round vs San Jose, Games 1 & 2 of this series); were 1-11 in previous 12 road playoff games prior to this streak
* Anze Kopitar (LA): leads all players in 2014 in playoffs in assists (11) and points (15); 11 assists are one shy of career high for a single postseason (had 12 assists in 2012 playoffs)
* Ducks: 9-23 (39.1 pct) on power play in last 6 playoff games (2-16, 12.5 pct in 1st 4 playoff games); lead all teams in 2014 playoffs in PPG with 11

Ducks sticking with Gibson for Game 5

May, 11, 2014
May 11
7:19
PM PT


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- After starting three different goalies in three straight games, Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau decided to alleviate any suspense on Sunday.

The kid stays in, obviously, after a 28-save shutout.

"Well, I kind of believe that it's not a difficult decision," Boudreau said with a smile. "I'm not going to try to play that game. He came in. He played great. He's going to go again."

Boudreau said he told John Gibson on Friday night that he was the starter for Game 4, and told a disappointed Jonas Hiller the news on Saturday morning.

While his face could not hide his disappointment Sunday, to Hiller’s credit he said he was willing to accept whatever is good for the team, that he just wants to be supportive of his teammates.

Prodded Sunday to find out why he made the decision to start a rookie without NHL playoff experience, Boudreau was asked about playing in the AHL in the mid-1980s when his club was upset by a 19-year-old goalie in the playoffs.

"We lost to Patrick Roy that year," Boudreau said. "And then we've also done the same thing coming out of juniors to Carey Price in the American League (2007 AHL playoffs), where he beat us in the championship. You know young kids can do it. They just come up and they're ready. And those two that I just mentioned obviously were very special goalies. I think, and I don't want to hype him too much, this is what they've been talking about him for the last three years."

The Price-Gibson comparisons have already begun, in large part because both are so calm and cool.

"Nothing seems to bother him and that was the thing I first saw with Carey Price," Boudreau said. "In that [AHL] series, you couldn't faze him. He'd just move and make all the saves look easy. Consequently he's gone on to be one of the best."

Ducks' injuries


Boudreau said center Mathieu Perreault (lower-body injury) would be a game-time decision Monday night. But Boudreau said injured winger Matt Beleskey and injured goalie Frederik Andersen would sit. Both players suffered lower-body injuries in Game 3 and did not play in Game 4.

Kings look to rebound


Meanwhile, out at the Kings' training facility in El Segundo on Sunday, a veteran team looked to recharge after dropping two straight.

Head coach Darryl Sutter had some fun, too.

"Yeah, I’m not rattled. I’m just thankful I’m alive today. I’m fortunate to pull through after the devastating loss [Saturday] night," Sutter said before pulling a M.A.S.H. reference out of his repertoire. "Radar and Hawkeye had to get me up to come here today."

Point taken. This is a team that has seen it all, won a Cup two years ago, went to the conference finals last year and erased a 3-0 series deficit to San Jose in the first round this year.

Losing two straight to rival Anaheim is not going to rattle this playoff-savvy group.

"It’s the best-of-three. Nothing wrong with that," veteran center Jarret Stoll told reporters Sunday. "They’re a great team. They had the best record in the West, No. 1 seed, whatever they were. So they’re a good team. We know that. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We can say that. It’s a series now. A good, positive day today. We came in and the boys were in good spirits. Get ready to win a road game."
LOS ANGELES -- The Anaheim Ducks have depth and are likely going to dip into it for Game 3 on Thursday night.

Down 2-0 in the series, why not?

While head coach Bruce Boudreau would not confirm those lineup changes, the betting money is on defenseman Sami Vatanen and winger Kyle Palmieri both being inserted into the lineup as the Ducks look for a bit more offense.

Vatanen, who played for Finland at the Olympics in February, was recalled from AHL Norfolk on Wednesday. My guess is he takes the spot of Mark Fistric in the lineup.

"Puck-moving, he got six goals for us this year, he’s always been an offensive defenseman," Boudreau said Thursday morning about Vatanen, who had 21 points (6-15) in 48 games with the Ducks this season.

Young winger Emerson Etem was sent down to Norfolk, opening up a lineup spot for, most likely, Palmieri, 23, who had 14 goals and 17 assists in 71 games this season for the Ducks.

"He's a great scorer, he led the American League in scoring when he was 19," Boudreau said. "He’s got a great shot. His shot is as good as anybody's. He can skate and he's got a bit of physicality. That's what he brings."

Projected (not confirmed) Ducks lineup:
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano-Saku Koivu-Jakob Silfverberg
Devante Smith-Pelly-Nick Bonino-Kyle Palmieri
Patrick Maroon-Mathieu Perreault-Teemu Selanne

Defense pairs
Cam Fowler-Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Bryan Allen-Sami Vatanen

Goalie
Jonas Hiller

Nothing new on the Kings' side, both veteran blueliners Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr remain out. Which means you can likely expect the same Kings lineup for Game 3:

Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford-Mike Richards-Trevor Lewis

Defense pairs
Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty
Jeff Schultz-Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez-Matt Greene

Goalie
Jonathan Quick

Where the Kings hope to improve, despite a 2-0 series lead, is they feel they didn't generate enough offense, especially after being held to 17 shots in Game 2.

"We didn't play good enough in Game 2," Kings star blueliner Drew Doughty said Thursday morning after the skate. "We played well enough to win, a good playoff-style game I guess, but it’s still not what we want to be doing. We want to be the team outshooting the other team and obviously not be giving them as many opportunities. If we can put more pucks on the net that would be great, too. The bigger the cushion, the better chance we have to win. We're going to be looking to get more shots and more goals tonight."

Kings looking to keep streak alive

May, 5, 2014
May 5
1:53
PM PT
Changing Fortunes in L.A.: The Kings look for their sixth straight win Monday night after losing the first three games this postseason. From Elias: With a win, they would tie a single-season playoff mark for consecutive wins immediately following a losing streak of three games. In 2010, the Flyers lost the first three games of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Bruins, before winning six straight.

Greene, Niemi in for Kings-Sharks Game 7

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
4:49
PM PT

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Matt Greene checks in for the injured Willie Mitchell for Game 7 Wednesday night.

"It's always fun, a high-stakes game like this. You come in and try to help out," Greene said after Wednesday's morning skate.

The veteran blueliner hasn't played since Game 2, his only appearance of the series.

Otherwise, no other changes were expected for the Kings, who should line up like this up front:

Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford-Mike Richards-Trevor Lewis

Winning Game 5 at SAP Center, one of the NHL’s toughest rinks to play in, should provide some comfort for the Kings. But captain Brown underplayed it.

"I think it's irrelevant when it comes to a Game 7 like this," he said after the morning skate. "You look at our record here; we've maybe won only two or three games here the last couple of years. It’s obviously something they take pride in playing here at home. At the end of the day, in Game 7 all bets are off."

As for the Sharks, Antti Niemi gets the start for Game 7 after getting pulled in Game 5 and watching backup Alex Stalock start Game 6.

"I think I felt good in the practice today, yesterday, two days ago. So I feel ready," said Niemi. "I got a couple extra practice days between, maybe work on some stuff. Either way, having a day off from the game, not being so focused, maybe that's a good thing too."

Coach Todd McLellan explained the decision to start Niemi in part because the time off will have been beneficial to him, plus heading into Game 7, it’s about trusting the core of the team, which Niemi is a part of.

"I think the break was good for Nemo. He got a chance to work on some things in his game that the goaltending coach wanted to work on. He got a chance to rest," McLellan said Wednesday morning. "Our team did need a change heading into Game 6 into L.A. Unfortunately, we had to pull him twice, but that wasn’t all on Nemo’s shoulders. It’s pretty evident and pretty obvious, and I hope I’ve made that clear. But moving forward with Nemo, we want to give Nemo an opportunity.

"For us to win tonight or for them to win in that case, you’ll hear the cliches about how it’s going to take the full team and obviously it will, but I think our core and our team has to step up. They were there early in the series; L.A.’s core has been there later in the series. Tonight is the deciding game. And in my opinion, Nemo is a very big part of that core so they’ll get a chance to perform in that Game 7."

The Sharks held an optional morning skate and didn’t show line rushes, so there's no telling exactly how they will line up for Game 7. The important question as always will be whether Joe Pavelski starts on Joe Thornton’s left side or centers the third line. He might do a bit of both during the game depending on the score and specific situations.

Just guessing, but here’s how the forward lines could shape up:

Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Matt Nieto
Tomas Hertl-James Sheppard-Tommy Wingels
Raffi Torres-Andrew Desjardins-Martin Havlat/Mike Brown

Meanwhile, injured defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was once again ruled out by McLellan.

Oh, and McLellan got a haircut.

"Lots of it off. Tried to cut all the gray out," deadpanned the Sharks coach.

Just like Tuesday at practice, the Sharks were a loose bunch at the morning skate. It’s just their nature, regardless of the pressured situation at hand.

"It's the way the room has always been," Pavelski said after the morning optional. "We have fun. Guys like playing the game here. We know the situation isn’t ideal, you know, to give up a [series] lead like that. But we still got another opportunity, and we believe that we worked all year for that home ice in case we were in a position like this against them. It’s about getting the job done, and I like our chances moving forward."

Doughty is the man
When it comes to big games, few players look forward to stepping up in clutch moments more than Kings blueliner Drew Doughty. As he showed in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and the 2012 Stanley Cup run, he loves the big stage.

And on Wednesday morning, Doughty had his game face on.

"You treat this Game 7 as if it is the Olympic gold-medal game or the Stanley Cup finals," Doughty said. "For me personally, I need to have an unbelievable game for our team to win tonight. I need my A-game. I need to do everything right. I need to play well defensively, I need to chip in on the offense, I need to dominate on special teams, so that’s just how I look at it."

How do you not like this guy?

Creating a forecheck
A big key for the Sharks in Game 7 is to create a better forecheck and force more turnovers from the NHL’s best defensive team.

"The first couple of games, and I'm sure Darryl [Sutter] would tell you, and I don’t have to speak for their team, but they gave up a very large amount of outnumbered rushes and we were able to advantage of that," said McLellan. "Since Game 3, perhaps, we haven’t seen that. We’ve tried to create them, obviously, but they’re a very good, stingy defensive team. That’s gone away from us.

"If it presents itself, we have to bear down in those situations. If we do get some scoring opportunities, the way their team has played and the way their goaltender has played, we have to bear down. But our offense has been anemic the last 2-3 games. We need to have the puck more. We need to establish a forecheck better. We can’t be one-and-out. Our game is predicated on spending extra time in the offensive zone, shooting the puck and getting it back. It’s going to take more than that initial shot to beat Jonathan Quick the way he’s playing."

W2W4: Key stats for Game 7s

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
2:16
PM PT
Game 7 Bonanza: The NHL features three Game 7s Wednesday night and the Flyers-Rangers start things off at 7 ET. Something has to give. The Rangers have never lost a Game 7 at home (5-0), but the Flyers own the best Game 7 record (9-6) of any team in NHL history (min. 10 games played).

Stanley Cup Playoffs – Game 7s
Flyers at Rangers, 7 ET

* This is the 2nd time the Flyers and Rangers have played a Game 7 against each other. In the 1974 Semifinals, the Flyers beat the Rangers, 4-3.
* Teams have alternated wins and losses throughout series (last game was won by Flyers).
* Flyers: best record in Game 7s (9-6) of any team with at least 10 games played.
* Flyers: 9-6 in Game 7s (3-3 on road)
* Flyers: won each of their last 2 series vs Eastern Conference teams when trailing 3-2
* Rangers: looking for first playoff series win vs Flyers since 1986 Patrick Division Semifinal (have lost last 3 series vs Flyers)
* Rangers: won 6 of their last 7 Game 7s (including their last 3), after losing their first 4 Game 7s
* Rangers: 6-5 all-time in Game 7s (5-0 at home)

Wild at Avalanche, 9:30 ET
* There have been 25 teams to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in NHL playoff history.
* Home team has won every game this series
* Wild: defeated Avalanche in Game 7 of 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals
* Wild: 2-0 all-time in Game 7s (both on road)
* Avalanche: 6-6 all-time in Game 7s (4-2 in Game 7s at home)

Kings at Sharks, 10 ET
* Kings: 9th team to force Game 7 when trailing 3-0
* Sharks: 2nd time being pushed to Game 7 after taking 3-0 series lead (2011 vs Red Wings ... SJ won Game 7)
* Only 3 NHL teams have won a series when trailing 3-0 (1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders, 2010 Flyers)
* Each team has scored 21 goals this series
* Kings: eliminated Sharks in Game 7 of Western Conference semifinals last year
* Kings: 4-4 in Game 7s (2-3 on road)
* Sharks: 5-3 in Game 7s (2-0 at home)

Forced Game 7 After Trailing Series 3-0
Stanley Cup Playoff History
Opponent
2014 Kings Sharks
2011 Red Wings Sharks
2011 Blackhawks Canucks
2010 Flyers << Bruins
1975 Islanders Flyers
1975 Islanders << Penguins
1945 Red Wings Maple Leafs
1942 Maple Leafs << Red Wings
1939 Rangers Bruins
>> Won game

W2W4: Key stats for Monday's games

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
3:07
PM PT
Penguins at Blue Jackets, 7 ET (Penguins lead series 3-2)
* Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin (PIT): 0 goals on 32 combined shots in series
* Sidney Crosby (PIT): 0 goals in last 10 postseason games (longest streak of his career)
* Team to score 1st has lost each game in series
* Blue Jackets: 27.3% (6-22) on power play in series (19.3% in regular season)

Avalanche at Wild, 9 ET (Avalanche lead series 3-2)
* Home team has won each game of series
* Nathan MacKinnon (COL): leads all players with 10 points this postseason
* Nathan MacKinnon (COL): 10 points in series are the most ever by a rookie under age 20 in his first playoff series
* Teams are a combined 3-33 on power play in series

Sharks at Kings, 10 ET (Sharks lead series 3-2)
* Kings: won last 2 games in series after losing 1st 3; looking to become 4th team in NHL history to come back from 3-0 series deficit
* Kings: outscored Sharks 9-3 in last 2 games (wins); were outscored 17-8 in 1st 3 games of series (losses)
* Marc-Edouard Vlasic (SJ): questionable for Game 6 (upper body); has never missed a playoff game in his career (88 straight)

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