Western Conference quarterfinals
Kings (2-3) vs. San Jose Sharks (3-2) at Staples Center, 7 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Finest line: Who would have thought a month ago the most effective line of the postseason would be the Brad Richardson-Wayne Simmonds-Kyle Clifford combination? The trio spent most of the regular season playing obscure checking line roles, with a few brief appearances on the top line with Anze Kopitar. But when Kopitar suffered a season-ending ankle injury a month ago and trade-deadline acquisition Dustin Penner disappeared, the offense was thrown into disarray. Richardson-Simmonds-Clifford have emerged from the blue to produce six goals and seven assists in five playoff games.
2. Confidence awarded: Kings coach Terry Murray showed confidence in goalie Jonathan Quick when few others did. He put him back in net for Game 5, despite giving up 12 goals in the previous two games. Quick turned in his best performance in months, stopping a playoff career-high 51 shots in the 3-1 victory to keep the Kings alive for another day. Quick can get on a roll just as easily as he can morph into Swiss cheese, meaning this series can still go either way. Of course, it would help if the Kings scored three first-period goals like they did in Games 3 and 5.
3. Second-period blues: The Kings haven’t allowed a first-period goal since Game 1 but they’ve been horrible in the second period, allowing 10 goals in the postseason, including five in the 6-5 overtime loss in Game 3. The players can’t stop to exhale during the middle stretch of the game because the Sharks won't. San Jose is playing this series like it's a soap box derby, starting real slow and picking up speed as the games go along.
4. Brown is down: Another player named Dustin who is having a quiet series is team captain Dustin Brown. He has accumulated just two points in the series and is tied for the team lead at minus-4, a category that nobody wants to lead. Brown led the Kings during the regular season with 28 goals and was second at plus-17. Brown’s scoring slump extends to the end of the regular season, when he had just one goal and two assists in the final six games. No better time to erupt for a huge game than Monday night.
5. Antti’s back: Sharks coach Todd McLellan has twice pulled goalie Antti Niemi during this series. He took his first trip to the bench after allowing four goals in just more than a period in Game 3, and again in Game 5, after three goals sailed by in the opening period. McLellan is sticking with Niemi in Game 6, however, hoping the player who helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup title last season will reemerge. Or, McLellan might have done irreparable damage to his goalie's confidence.