Los Angeles Hockey: Henrik Lundqvist

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.

Kings: This trick couldn't have come at a better time

February, 25, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- The built-in storyline coming into Saturday night’s game against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks was the debut of Kings forward Jeff Carter.

Turns out another right wing, the one who wasn’t traded away this week, stole the show.

Dustin Brown scored his third career hat trick and matched his career-high with four points, leading the Kings over the Blackhawks, 4-0, in front of a joyous sold-out crowd that witnessed its first victory at Staples Center since Feb. 1.

“Things went well for me tonight and I hope to build on it,” Brown said. “We’ve been struggling as a team, and I’ve been struggling personally to score goals, and it definitely felt good to score some goals tonight.”

In his fourth season as team captain, Brown became the object of wide-spread trade rumors Thursday night, the same evening the Kings traded defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Carter.

He was stuck in the unenviable position of attending practice the following morning and then taking questions from a larger-than-normal gathering of media. Brown sat back and answered every one, most probing his knowledge and reaction to the trade rumors.

“I’ve been a King my whole career and I expect to be a King beyond the next few days,” he said. “For me, personally, I probably said this [Friday], with all the rumors flying around, it’s my responsibility to prepare myself to be the best I can. Tonight I felt good.”

(Read full post)

Ducks: Newcomers making an impact

October, 11, 2011

ANAHEIM -- They’re a combination of rookies, rejects and players trying to reinvent their games.

Ducks forwards Devante Smith-Pelly, Andrew Gordon and Andrew Cogliano have come together to start this season, bringing a mixed bag of skill, playing experience and personal endeavors.

They might not possess the name recognition built by teammates Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf or Teemu Selanne, but they have the understanding of what it will take to stick with the team, and they’re willing to try anything to hold on to their dream of playing in the NHL.

The trio has been matched together on the third line, an energy role as it’s known in the league, but they’ve also been handed vital penalty-killing duties.

They even combined to score the only goal in a 2-1 shootout victory Saturday night against the New York Rangers in Stockholm.

Gordon started the scoring play by carrying the puck into the offensive zone, then sending a brisk pass over to Smith-Pelly to his right. The puck caromed off his stick and went into the corner, where Smith-Pelly laid a check on a Rangers defender while Gordon scooped in the loose puck and sent a perfect centering pass to Cogliano charging down the slot. Cogliano did the rest, putting it past goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period.

“That’s just the type of goal that our line has to try and create,” Smith-Pelly said Monday afternoon.

Smith-Pelly turned 19 in June. Gordon is 25 but still considered a rookie. Cogliano is 24 but has the most NHL experience of the trio, having played in 328 games heading into this season. A former first-round draft pick of the Oilers, Cogliano never lived up to expectations in Edmonton and was traded to the Ducks over the summer for a second-round pick in 2013.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Gordon had one goal and an assist in 13 games in the NHL. Washington didn’t sign him after last season and he was picked up by the Ducks on a two-year deal. Signing a multi-year contract was the first victory for Gordon, making the opening-day roster was the second.

(Read full post)

Kings 3, Rangers 2 (OT)

October, 7, 2011
Kings 3, New York Rangers 2 (OT)

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: In his first game in a Kings uniform, Mike Richards came up huge, scoring the tying goal with five minutes left in regulation and dishing off the game-winner to Jack Johnson with 52 seconds remaining in overtime in the season opener Friday night at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.

THE STAT: Kings coach Terry Murray wasn’t kidding when he said he’d put the gas pedal to the floor with defenseman Drew Doughty, who joined the team just a week ago after missing the first two weeks of training camp while negotiating a new eight-year, $56-million contract. Doughty played a team-high 26 minutes 54 seconds, five minutes more than the next-most minutes played by a teammate. He was more solid than spectacular. It will be interesting to see how well he bounces back for Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres in Berlin, Germany.

TURNING POINT: With the Kings trailing, 2-1, in the closing minutes, Brad Richardson used his speed to carry the puck down the left side of the offensive zone. He spotted Richards crashing the net in the slot and fed a well-timed pass in his direction. Richards kept his stick blade on the ice while out-muscling Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto and redirected the puck past goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist.

HOT: It was difficult to tell Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams were coming off offseason surgeries. The duo started off the game on fire, combining on the Kings first goal. But the Rangers made some adjustments after the opening period, putting Artem Anisimov on Kopitar and forcing him to work harder in his defensive zone. Richards, Richardson and Dustin Brown then stepped up and carried the team during the second half of the game. On defense, second-year player Alec Martinez was the best defensemen on the ice for much of the game, getting high-quality looks on the power play and playing smartly on the defensive end.

NOT: Though the game-winner came with the man-advantage, the Kings still need some work on the power play. They were 0-for-4 heading into overtime after missing out on a man-advantage situation for the final two minutes of regulation. They also went on the power play twice in the opening five minutes of the game, but could only generate three shots on goal. Despite out-shooting the Rangers, 13-4, in the first period, they came away tied, 1-1.

GOOD MOVE: Johnson doesn’t have a game-winning goal in his previous five years in the NHL, much less a walk-off winner, but he looked like he knew where to go against the Rangers. With the teams skating 4-on-3 following Ryan McDonagh's tripping penalty on Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell in New York’s offensive zone, Kopitar had room to find Richards down low to the right of the crease. Johnson crashed the other goal post and Richards was able to get the puck through traffic, where Johnson took advantage of the open side of the net.

BAD MOVE: Kings goalie Jonathan Quick did not see a shot on goal for the first 15 minutes of the game, which could answer why he looked so awkward when the puck finally flew his way. Six seconds after absorbing his first shot on goal, Rangers forward Ryan Callahan took a tough-angle shot from inside the icing line and it somehow got past Quick and into the far side of the net, tying the score, 1-1.

NOTABLE: Kings left wing Dustin Penner did not play in the game due to a lower-body injury. He was replaced on the top line by Simon Gagne. Callahan finished with 11 of New York’s 26 shots on goal.

UP NEXT: Saturday vs. Buffalo Sabres in Berlin, Germany, 11 a.m. (PT)

Kings: Rangers get the most out of shootout

February, 17, 2011
New York Rangers 4, Kings 3 (SO)

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: The Kings twice tied the score in the third period Thursday at Madison Square Garden, but Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was better than Los Angeles counterpart Jonathan Bernier in the shootout, allowing New York to escape with the victory.

THE STAT: The Kings tied a franchise record with a point in their 11th consecutive game (8-0-3) and jumped three spots in the Western Conference standings to sixth. Of course, that could still change by the end of the night.

TURNING POINT: Erik Christensen scored on the first shootout attempt for the Rangers and Lundqvist then stopped Michal Handzus as he drove hard at the net. Mats Zuccarello then made a nice change-of-pace move to score on Bernier and the 2-0 deficit was too big to overcome for the Kings.

HOT: Anze Kopitar failed to score on his attempt to extend the shootout, but he contributed an assist for the fourth consecutive game. Dustin Brown also scored twice for the Kings, his first multi-goal effort since Dec. 27.

NOT: After scoring big goals in the last two games, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty wasn’t himself against the Rangers, twice getting burned for goals in regulation, finishing with a minus-two rating and accounting for three of his team’s four giveaways.

GOOD MOVE: Kings defenseman Matt Greene scored his first goal in 73 games to tie the score, 2-2, just 1 minute 40 seconds after New York had taken its first lead.

BAD MOVE: Rangers defensman Marc Staal was just holding the puck in his zone, waiting for the clock to expire at the end of regulation when Kings forward Alexei Ponikarovsky inexplicably struck Staal in the face with a high stick, earning a four-minute penalty at the start of overtime. Fortunately, the Rangers committed a high-sticking penalty of their own 1:48 into overtime, causing a rare three-on-three situation for two minutes.

NOTABLE: In the 11-game point streak, the score has been tied or within one goal heading into each third period. Six of those games were also tied at the end of regulation. The Kings have also allowed three goals or less in 17 straight games.

UP NEXT: at New York Islanders, Saturday, 4 p.m. PT.