Los Angeles Hockey: Kyle Clifford

Clifford, Bernier lift Kings over Jackets

February, 15, 2013

LOS ANGELES -- Kyle Clifford opened the scoring late in the second period, Jonathan Bernier made 12 saves and the Los Angeles Kings beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 Friday night for the defending Stanley Cup champions' first regulation win at home this season.

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Kings: 5 questions heading into 2012-13

June, 17, 2012

AP Photo/Louis Lopez/CSM
The biggest priority this summer is signing goalie Jonathan Quick to a long-term contract extension.
Coming off their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, the Kings face many of the same questions most organizations do this time of year. Which players must they try to re-sign? Who can they afford to let go? In what areas do they need to bolster their roster? Here’s a look at five key questions heading into the offseason.

1. Can the Kings extend Quick? The biggest priority this summer is signing goalie Jonathan Quick to a long-term contract extension. Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s top player in the postseason, will be an unrestricted free agent a year from now. The Kings can begin negotiating an extension as soon as July 1. As the 25th-highest-paid goalie in the league last season at $1.7 million, look for Quick to earn something in the $7 million range, similar to that of the league’s highest-paid netminder, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Quick's roots are on the East Coast, however. If the Kings aren't able to lock him into an extension this summer, that may be an indication his heart remains elsewhere.

2. What to do with Penner, Stoll and Fraser? The contracts belonging to forwards Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll and Colin Fraser will expire this summer, leaving all three veterans as unrestricted free agents. Penner had a solid showing in the playoffs, but was virtually missing in action the rest of his time with the Kings. If they can knock a couple of million off the $4.25 million he made last season, he might be worth keeping around. Stoll’s offensive numbers dropped significantly after he was moved from the second line to the third line last season, but his attitude never wavered. He’s probably better suited for the third line at this stage of his career anyway, but most third-liners don’t make $3.4 million a season. Fraser, the team’s fourth-line center, might actually earn a raise off the $825,000 he made last season.

3. Can the Kings avoid the Stanley hangover? No team has repeated as Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. A number of factors are responsible for this trend, probably none bigger than the widespread parity that has developed within the league in recent years. In the past nine seasons, nine teams have raised the Cup. Another factor is the significantly shorter summer Cup champions experience after their title run, leaving them a bit slow out of the gate. The Kings have a couple of factors on their side: They remain one of the youngest teams in the league and won’t lose any of their key players to free agency.

4. Is this the last we’ve seen of Bernier? At least in a Kings’ uniform, that seems to be the case. A former 11th overall draft pick, Jonathan Bernier is one of the best backup goalies in the league, but he has made it clear he’d rather not wear that title. He wants to be a starter and, after starting just 42 games in the past four seasons, he’s more than ready to make that move. He’s looking at a nice raise from $975,000 last season to $1.525 million in 2012-13, the final year of his current contract. The Kings could get that number off the books via a trade, slot Martin Jones in as the backup and use that cap space to bring in a forward to fill the shoes of Penner or Stoll.

5. Who will make up the fourth line next season? The Kings suddenly have a surplus of fourth-line types on the roster. Assuming they re-sign Fraser, that leaves Jordan Nolan, Brad Richardson, Kyle Clifford, Kevin Westgarth and Andrei Loktionov battling it out for the final two spots. There’s also a few players ready to graduate from the minors, most notably bruiser Rich Clune, who signed a two-year contract extension last week. Loktionov could very well inherit Stoll’s third-line center position, since he doesn’t have the size to survive on the wing. Clifford and Nolan are signed to two-way contracts through next season, which could leave one of them starting out next season in Manchester.

Kings take Cup to Tao in Vegas

June, 15, 2012
KingsBrenton Ho/Powers ImagerySeveral of the Kings were in Las Vegas on Thursday night with the Stanley Cup.

The summer of Stanley has already begun as the Kings took their prized possession on the road -- outside the state at least -- for the first time since winning the NHL championship on Monday night.

Las Vegas was the destination as many Kings spent Thursday evening at Tao Nightclub, sharing the glory of the victory -- and the Stanley Cup -- with club-goers and fans.

Among the players in attendance were Trevor Lewis, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll, Brad Richardson, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Alec Martinez, Kyle Clifford, Willie Mitchell and Jordan Nolan.

The players took turns drinking champagne out of the Cup as those in crowd snapped photos.

Here are a few more photos from the evening's celebration:

Kings Stanley Cup in Las VegasBrenton Ho/Powers ImageryTao Nightclub in Las Vegas went all out in welcoming the Kings with the Stanley Cup.

KingsBrenton Ho/Powers ImageryThe Stanley Cup was the center of attention once again at Tao Nightclub in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Kings chasing history heading into Game 4 vs. Coyotes

May, 20, 2012
Western Conference final

Game 4 (Kings lead series, 3-0)

Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center, noon

Five storylines to track:

1. Record pace – This isn’t just an L.A. thing anymore. The Kings have gone international. Not just because the world-class Amgen Tour of Southern California bike race will come skidding to a halt outside Staples Center as hockey fans are pouring in, but because no one has seen anything like the playoff run the King have strung together. They’ve won eight straight playoff games and 11 of 12 overall, leaving them one win shy of the Stanley Cup finals. Since the first round of the playoffs was stretched to best-of-seven in the 1987 season, no team has reached the finals in less than 14 games. The Kings would become the first if they can wrap up the sweep against the Coyotes.

2. Not as hot – The only major professional sports team that’s hotter than the Kings right now is the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, who have won 17 consecutive games, including all seven in the playoffs. Interestingly enough, the Spurs are scheduled to play inside Staples Center later Sunday night, when they’ll try to finish a second-round sweep against the Los Angeles Clippers. Like the Kings, the Spurs got hot in the weeks leading up to the playoffs and built on that momentum. Unlike the Kings, the Spurs have won multiple championships.

3. Hot n’ cold – Special teams continue to be a mixed bag for the Kings. They’ve scored just six power-play goals in 64 man-advantage situations in the playoffs, well below their dismal regular-season average. On the positive side, they haven’t allowed a power-play goal since Game 5 of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. They’ve allowed just three power-play goals in all. What's more impressive, they’ve scored four shorthanded goals to put them at plus-1 on the penalty kill.

4. Fraser returns – After missing Games 2 and 3 for a family matter, it appears Colin Fraser will return to the lineup. Fraser, who has been a fixture on the fourth line since returning from injury last fall, practiced with the team Saturday. It should be interesting who’s the odd man out. Kyle Clifford had replaced Fraser the last two games, but Clifford was also a regular fourth liner before suffering a concussion in the first game of the playoffs, causing him to miss the next nine. Brad Richardson and rookie Jordan Nolan would be the other likely options.

5. Hanzal returns – The arrival of Game 4 means the return of Phoenix center Martin Hanzal. He was suspended for Game 3 for his boarding penalty on Dustin Brown in Game 2. Hanzal will certainly add another dimension to the Coyotes’ forward group, but the Kings have seen top players come and go for Vancouver and St. Louis as well, and it hasn’t changed their mindset. They wait for coach Darryl Sutter to send them over the wall and play against whomever's on the ice at time. They simply focus on their role and let everything else take care of itself.

Kings set club record with seventh straight road playoff win

May, 15, 2012

Western Conference finals

Game 2

Kings 4, Phoenix Coyotes 0

(Kings lead the series 2-0)

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: If the Los Angeles Kings didn’t have such a fervent fan base waiting for them back home, they might want to play all their postseason games on the road. The Kings won their franchise-record seventh consecutive game away from Staples Center in these playoffs, outplaying the Phoenix Coyotes for the second straight game at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

THE STAT: Two players who weren’t even on the Kings during the first four months of the season, who missed out on the December coaching change and most of the frustrating, low-scoring losses, gave L.A. all the points it would need Tuesday night. Jeff Carter broke out of his playoff slump with a hat trick against the Coyotes, and rookie Dwight King notched the other goal, giving him three goals in the first two games of this series. Carter’s hat trick was the first by an L.A. player in the postseason since Wayne Gretzky in 1993.

TURNING POINT: King gave the Kings a 1-0 lead on a deflection off a point shot from defenseman Drew Doughty about 13 minutes into the game, and that held up through the first period. The Coyotes came out with much more intensity in the second, but the Kings killed that momentum when Dustin Penner did some nice work down low to get the puck to Carter, who scored 4:47 into the period for a 2-0 lead. After that goal, you could almost hear the puck drop inside Jobing.com Arena.

HOT: Carter and King, who combined for two goals in the first nine playoff games, have scored six in the past two. Over the long haul, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick might have edged ahead of teammate Dustin Brown as the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Quick stopped 24 shots for his second shutout of the postseason. He has allowed 16 goals in 11 playoff games and stopped 309 of 325 shots for a sizzling .951 save percentage. He has allowed more than two goals in a game only once in the playoffs, a Game 4 loss against the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round, L.A.'s only playoff defeat of 2012.

NOT: Coming into the postseason, Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata was hotter than the 108-degree temperature outside the arena, owning five goals in the final five regular-season games to give him a career-high 35. He has been a no-show in the postseason, however, producing two goals in 13 playoff games.

GOOD MOVE: Some of Carter’s best plays of the postseason have come off his skates. Interesting, considering that coming into the playoffs, his foot injury was one of the main storylines. He used his skate to redirect a centering pass to Penner in Game 1 of the Vancouver series, and Penner scored the game winner in the 4-2 victory. His skate was in the right place at the right time Tuesday after Anze Kopitar walked the puck in on a 5-on-3 and took a close-range shot that banked off Carter’s laces and into the net for a 3-0 second-period lead.

BAD MOVE: Two of the best offensive players for the Coyotes, Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal, were ejected from the game for careless boarding penalties, and goalie Mike Smith likely will hear from the league as well after intentionally swinging his stick like a lumberjack and thwacking the back of Brown’s legs as he camped in front of the crease. Even more amazing, Brown was called for diving on the play. He was in so much pain, he could barely skate to the penalty box.

NOTABLE: The Kings have won nine consecutive road playoff games overall, tying the NHL record set by the New York Islanders in 1982-83. ... Kings fourth-line center Colin Fraser did not play because he was tending to a family matter. Kyle Clifford, out since Game 1 of the Vancouver series because of a concussion, replaced him in the lineup but had just 2:29 of ice time, long enough to earn a holding penalty on Doan. ... The Kings have not trailed in the playoffs since midway through first period of Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues. ... The Kings have scored first in eight of 11 playoff games and won the other three. ... The Kings have outscored their opponents 13-5 in the first period of the playoffs. ... The Kings have killed 28 straight penalties and 44 of 47 overall in the playoffs.

UP NEXT: Game 3, Thursday at Staples Center, 6 p.m. PT.

Kings: Sweep smell of victory fills the air

May, 5, 2012
Drew DoughtyHarry How/Getty ImagesDrew Doughty has been receiving high praise from the opposing coach as well as the public.
Western Conference semifinals

Game 4, Kings vs. St. Louis Blues at Staples Center, noon (Kings lead series, 3-0)

Five storylines to track:

1. Broom town -- Sure, the Kings are up 3-0 for the second straight series, skating on home ice with another chance to sweep one of the top teams from the regular season. But a different aura surrounds this Game 4. It’s a sense of confidence, of domination and, yeah, the Blues are proving to be a lot more inferior than the Canucks. The St. Louis defense has more holes than an old pair of jeans, and goalie Brian Elliott is nowhere near the final obstacle that Cory Schneider proved to be in the Vancouver series. Throw in an offense that has been completely flummoxed by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and the recipe is ripe for a fourth straight victory.

2. Popular demand -- Kings defenseman Drew Doughty went to the Angels game Friday night, not to root for the home team but to support his beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Apparently, he and teammate Trevor Lewis were big hits with the crowd, going so far as to say it was the most attention they’ve received in public. The Kings have become part of the raging sports landscape in Southern California, right along with the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers and, to a lesser degree, the Angels. The volume should only increase if the Kings can advance to the Western Conference finals for just the second time in franchise history. That could go a long way toward keeping the Kings in the mainstream sports conversation beyond this spring.

3. Earning his keep -- St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock had the highest praise for Doughty following practice Saturday. He said the 22-year-old blueliner has been the best player in the series, a compliment that goes a long way considering how well Quick has played. Doughty had a backbreaking goal in the third period of Game 3 after earning a pair of assists earlier in the contest. The regular season didn’t unfold for Doughty quite the way many expected. He remained unsigned during training camp while negotiating the highest-paid contract on the team, and came up far short of the offensive numbers he produced two years ago, a watermark his representatives used in negotiations. It’s amazing how easily those shortfalls can be forgotten in the haze a standout playoff performance.

4. Power please -- The Kings ended an 0-for-30 skid on the power play in Game 3, getting a second-period goal from Mike Richards. They’re 4-for-42 overall in these playoffs, a percentage that normally wouldn’t hold up this long into the postseason. But the Kings have made up for some of their special teams futility by going 32-for-35 on the penalty kill and scoring four short-handed goals. A power-play goal or two in Game 4 could go a long way toward getting the Kings back on track, and maybe even help clinch this series.

5. Changing Blues -- The Blues can’t replace Elliott because their backup, Jaroslav Halak, is sidelined because of a sprained ankle, so they’re benching defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and replacing him with Ian Cole, and scratching winger B.J. Crombeen in place of Ryan Reaves, who’s best known in L.A. for dropping Kings forward Kyle Clifford in a one-punch fight last season. Let’s face it, the Blues don’t have that golden ticket waiting to be found. Vancouver swapped goalies after the first two losses against the Kings, and that did little to stem the tide.

Kings: Outlook not promising for injured left wings

April, 20, 2012
EL SEGUNDO—While the Kings wait to find out what time the puck will drop Sunday for Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinal against the Canucks in Vancouver, there has been some clarity on the status of three injured left wings.

Kyle Clifford did not participate in Friday’s practice at Toyota Sports Center, nor did he skate on his own afterward. Clifford was injured in Game 1 when his head slammed into the glass following a hit by Vancouver winger Byron Bitz.

Clifford wobbled off the ice and hasn’t played since. Bitz was suspended for Games 2 and 3, both won by the Kings to take a 3-0 series lead, and was a healthy scratch in Game 4, won by the Canucks on Wednesday at Staples Center to push the series to a fifth game.

Clifford’s red non-contact jersey hung above his locker Friday, indicating there was a plan for him to skate at some point, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Clifford did not have a setback in his recovery, rather continues to follow “protocol.”

(Read full post)

Kings: Time to give the Canucks the brush-off

April, 18, 2012
Western Conference Quarterfinals

Game 4

Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks at Staples Center, 7 p.m. PT

(Kings lead the best-of-seven series 3-0)

Five storylines to track:

1. History lesson -- Get out your curling brooms; the Kings are going for the sweep. This wouldn’t be a typical sweep, but the first time the top-seeded team in the NHL (or NBA, for that matter) has been swept out of the first round. No easy task, as the Canucks have played better and better as the series has unfolded, and a four-and-out could lead to major changes in the offseason, most likely from the top down. The Kings are already meandering in uncharted waters, as they’ve never held a 3-0 series lead in franchise history. Seems pretty obvious they’d like to take care of business Wednesday night and avoid another trip to Vancouver for Game 5.

2. Game-time decision -- The biggest question heading into Game 4 probably won’t have a definite answer until shortly before game time, but Daniel Sedin, out the past 12 games with a concussion, went through practice Tuesday and skated Wednesday morning at Staples Center, and all indications point to Vancouver's leading goal scorer giving it a go. Sedin is no Sidney Crosby, but he does comprise one of the league’s most dangerous tandems with his twin brother, Henrik. How much Daniel Sedin can contribute is another story. He admitted to being out of shape after sitting out most of the past four weeks and hasn’t had any contact. Cory Schneider also gets his second straight start in goal for Vancouver.

3. Powerless -- The stat that continues to jump off the score sheet is the power-play futility by the Canucks. Or maybe it’s just the dynamic penalty kill by the Kings? Either way, the 0-for-14 by Vancouver has been as key to this series as anything Jonathan Quick or Dustin Brown has accomplished for the Kings. The Canucks were heading in this direction coming into the series. Over their last four games of the regular season, the Canucks went 16 straight power plays without scoring. In the past seven games overall, they're 2-for-34. Having both Sedins on the ice would surely be a boost to that unit.

4. Time to shine -- Jeff Carter is due. He doesn’t have a goal in this series and has gone the past seven games overall without hitting the back of the net. In his past 14 postseason games, he has just two goals. He’s known as a proficient goal scorer, evident by the 144 he put up during the previous four regular seasons, but he’s also building a reputation as someone who disappears in the playoffs, whether on the ice or off in the trainer’s room. Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams also are due to light the lamp this series, but at least they've contributed an assist in each game.

5. Richardson in, Loktionov out -- Kings fourth-line winger Kyle Clifford will be out of action for a third consecutive game after taking a brutal hit from Byron Bitz in Game 1. Bitz, by the way, is available to return after serving his two-game suspension for the illegal hit. Brad Richardson, sidelined since undergoing an emergency appendectomy April 9, is ready to play and will assume Clifford’s spot on the checking line. Andrei Loktionov, who was called up to fill in for Richardson and then for Clifford, will be a healthy scratch. Richardson gives the Kings more speed and mobility than Clifford, and more grit and toughness than Loktionov, so the Kings should be in good shape.

Kings: Series returns home for Game 3 vs. Canucks

April, 14, 2012
Western Conference Quarterfinals

Game 3

Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

(Kings lead the best-of-seven series, 2-0)

Five storylines to track:

1. Two down, two to go – The Kings haven’t been in this situation in a loooooong time. They went to Vancouver for the opening two games of this series and brought back more than most expected; two decisive victories. They haven’t led a series, 2-0, since 1968. Calling this the biggest set of back-to-back home playoff games in 20 years might be a stretch, as they were in a similar position the last two seasons, but a lot of pent-up misery will be erased if the Kings can finish off the Canucks. It’s important for the players to realize they haven’t won anything yet. And if they don’t, you can bet coach Darryl Sutter will give them plenty of reminders.

2. Passing the test – Almost from the first drop of the puck in this series, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty has been a marked man. The Canucks have taken open-ice runs at him, roughed him up along the boards and tried to entice him into retaliation penalties. Except for a big hit he took on the opening shift of the series, he has dodged every effort by the Canucks to get him off his game. As the clear leader in on-ice time, both in the regular season and the playoffs, it’s important for Doughty to stay out of the penalty box and away from the trainer’s room, and let his natural abilities do the rest. He’s doing an admirable job so far.

3. Unexpected contributions – The third line of Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis has been another pleasant surprise. The trio has accounted for three goals in the series, including both game winners. Just how remarkable is that? They combined for three goals the final two months of the regular season and one game winner the entire year. If the Kings can continue to get offense from the third line, it will surely take some of the pressure off the top six forwards and dump even more on the Canucks.

4. Similar situation – The news out of Vancouver isn’t getting any better for Daniel Sedin. The team’s leading goal scorer has missed the last 11 games because of a concussion and didn’t fly to L.A. with his team Saturday. He has already been ruled out for Game 3, and it doesn't seem likely he'll make the trip for Game 4 either. The Kings can relate. They lost their leading point scorer last season, Anze Kopitar, to a broken ankle with seven games remaining in the regular season. His absence from the playoffs possibly made the difference in the six-game loss to the Sharks. If Vancouver fans are looking to make excuses, they won’t find any listeners in L.A.

5. Clifford still out – The Kings will also be without a forward due to injury, only their missing piece isn't the sniper that Sedin is, but rather fourth-line left wing Kyle Clifford. He suffered an upper-body injury when he was slammed into the glass by Vancouver right wing Byron Bitz during Game 1, earning Bitz a two-game suspension. Sutter made the interesting choice before Game 2 of replacing Clifford in the lineup with a finesse player, rookie Andrei Loktionov, rather than another bruiser in Kevin Westgarth. Loktionov was limited to six shifts, but did manage a takeaway and a blocked shot. He gives the Kings another element of speed, something they’ve been better at through the first two games. If he can avoid getting bumped off the puck in the three zones, Loktionov should continue to fill in nicely for Clifford.

Kings: Nothing safe about this lead vs. Canucks

April, 12, 2012

Western Conference Quarterfinals

Game 2

Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, 7 p.m.

(Kings lead the best-of-seven series, 1-0)

Five storylines to track:

1. One is done – The Kings needed that one. Not just to grab a 1-0 series lead, or steal home-ice advantage from the top-seeded Canucks. They needed to win Game 1 because they had outplayed Vancouver in every facet of the game except the scoreboard. Dustin Penner, of all players, gave the Kings a reason to exhale when he scored with about 3 minutes remaining to give the Kings a 3-2 lead. Dustin Brown, the longest-tenured member of the team, cemented the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute. The Kings deserved the victory and they got it, putting themselves in position to drop the Canucks in a deep hole even before the series heads to L.A.

2. History lesson – For the third straight year, the Kings have swiped away home-ice advantage in the opening two games. They were up 2-games-to-1 against the Canucks two years ago and held a one-goal lead with 13 minutes remaining in Game 4, but folded like a cheap deck chair under a 400-pound man. Last season, they evened the series, 1-1, in San Jose and owned a 4-0 lead in Game 3 at Staples Center before giving the game away in one of the great collapses in franchise history. As happy as some seemed to win Game 1, from the team’s Twitter keeper to Joe Fan, the Kings haven’t accomplished anything yet. As long as the players and coaches realize that, everything should be fine.

(Read full post)

Kings: Kyle Clifford's injury could be latest blow to left wing corps

April, 12, 2012

The left side took another hit Wednesday night, then gave a bigger one back.

Kings second-year left wing Kyle Clifford was knocked from Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinal against the Canucks after absorbing a violent hit from winger Byron Bitz late in the second period, causing him to slam his head into the glass at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

The impact also contorted Clifford’s neck as he slid down the wall and tumbled to the ice. He struggled to get back on his skates and regain his balance, looking like a boxer trying to beat a 10 count.

Clifford, 21, was escorted off the ice by the team trainer and wasn’t around to celebrate the 3-2 victory that ripped home ice away from the top-seeded Canucks. The five-minute boarding penalty on Bitz and game misconduct didn’t go unanswered by the Kings either. Willie Mitchell scored on the ensuing power play to give L.A. a 2-1 lead.

When asked about Clifford’s status during a post-game news conference, Kings coach Darryl Sutter dodged the question. As with their protocol, the Kings only referred to it as an upper-body injury. Clifford missed two games late last season after getting knocked down by a hard punch from Ryan Reaves of the St. Louis Blues. If it’s his second head injury in a little more than a year, Clifford could miss some time.

Clifford’s numbers are modest, but most of his contributions don’t make it onto a scoresheet. He had just five goals and seven assists in 81 regular-season games this season, but it's his physical style of play that makes him a perfect fit on the fourth line. He played the best hockey of his career during last season’s playoffs, totaling three goals and two assists in a six-game loss to the San Jose Sharks.

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Kings: Dustin Penner comes through with Game 1 game winner

April, 11, 2012
Mike RichardsRich Lam/Getty ImagesAnze Kopitar and Mike Richards celebrate Richards' goal in the first period of a 4-2 win over Vancouver.
Western Conference Quarterfinals

Game 1

Kings 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: Dustin Penner, the beleaguered left wing for the Kings, scored the go-ahead goal with 3:14 remaining Wednesday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, and Dustin Brown sealed the victory with an empty netter with 18 seconds left, as L.A. took away home-ice advantage with the victory against the top-seeded Canucks.

THE STAT: Penner, a four-time 20-goal scorer and Stanley Cup winner with the Ducks in 2007, had scored seven goals all season and didn’t produce a point in the previous nine games. All of that was forgotten when he banged home the eighth playoff goal of his seven-year career to break a 2-2 tie.

TURNING POINT: The Kings had just killed off Vancouver’s fifth power play of the game when Vancouver defenseman Alex Edler elected to clear the puck through the middle of the ice, rather than play it safely along the boards. His pass hit Mike Richards in the chest, keeping the puck in the offensive zone. He passed it to Jeff Carter to his right, but the puck hit Carter’s skate and he appeared to direct it across the slot to Penner, who hit the wide-open side of the net for a 3-2 lead.

HOT: Richards had one of his best games in months. He not only forced the turnover and set up the game winner, but he scored the first goal by the Kings to tie the score, 1-1, with 6:29 remaining in the opening period. While on the power play, Richards had the puck down low and fooled Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo by shooting the puck through his pads, rather than making a cross-ice pass in front of the crease. Richards also showed his physical side, laying a big hit on Vancouver right wing Alex Burrows in the game’s final minute. Richards was among the team leaders with four hits.

(Read full post)

Kings: First-round playoff primer

April, 8, 2012

Opponent: Vancouver Canucks.

Records: Kings, 40-27-15, 95 points (8th in Western Conference); Canucks 51-22-9, 111 points (1st in Western Conference).

Playoff Schedule: Wednesday @ Vancouver; Friday @ Vancouver; Sunday @ L.A.; April 11 @ L.A.; April 22 @ Vancouver (if needed); April 24 @ L.A. (if needed); April 22 @ Vancouver (if needed).

Previous meetings this season:

Nov. 10 @ Staples CenterCanucks 3, Kings 2

The Canucks grabbed a three-goal lead in the first-period and never looked back, leaving the Kings winless for the sixth time in seven games. That pretty much erased their 6-2-1 start to the season. On the positive side, the game marked the debut of Kings fourth-line center Colin Fraser, who turned out to be a key piece of the puzzle this season. Fraser, acquired in the offseason trade that sent Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton, sat out training camp and the first six weeks of the season while recovering from foot surgery and waiting for this shot to crack the lineup. He became a mainstay for the season, even earning the team's Masterton Trophy nomination for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Dec. 31 @ Staples CenterKings 4, Canucks 1

Playing a home game on New Year’s Eve for just the second time in franchise history, Kings center Anze Kopitar ended a career-long 17-game goal-less streak, and coach Darryl Sutter improved to 4-0-2 since replacing Terry Murray 10 days earlier. Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard may have set the tone for this series when he speared Kings forward Kyle Clifford behind the Vancouver net, then sucker-punched him after Clifford fell to the ice. Ballard has been out since February with concussion symptoms, but those cheap shots just added to the disdain between these two clubs and their fans.

Jan. 17 @ Rogers Arena – Kings, 3, Canucks 2 (SO)

The Kings were still trying to establish some footing when they rolled into Vancouver following an overtime loss in Edmonton two nights earlier. They hung with the Canucks long enough to win in a shootout, but the game was probably best remembered for a rare goal from beleaguered left wing Dustin Penner. Kings right wing Justin Williams also had a goal in regulation and another in the shootout in what turned out to be the fifth game of a season-long nine-game point streak.

March 26 @ Rogers ArenaCanucks 1, Kings 0

After not seeing the Canucks for more than two months, the Kings paid another visit up north to kick off a key four-game road trip, one that would determine their postseason fate. They were stonewalled by Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, sending them tumbling out of the top eight in the Western Conference with six games remaining. They regrouped to finish 2-1-1 on the road trip and pull themselves back inside the cutoff, where they stayed for the remainder of the season. That same day, Vancouver made the first public admission that leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin had a concussion, which caused him to miss the last nine games of the regular season and put him in jeopardy of missing playoff time.

Playoff fact: The Kings and Canucks met in the first round two years ago, with the Canucks winning in six games.

Kings: All tied, 1-1, after physical first period vs. Sharks

April, 5, 2012
After the 1st period:

Kings 1, San Jose Sharks 1

The good: Three minutes into the game, it was announced to the crowd that the Kings had clinched a playoff berth for the third straight season, courtesy of a 2-0 victory by the Nashville Predators over the Dallas Stars. There were lots of cheers, but no high fives on the Kings’ bench, no stick taps by the players on the ice, not even a sigh of relief from Kings coach Darryl Sutter. In their minds, there’s still plenty of work to do. The Sharks and Kings remain in a tight three-team race for the Pacific Division championship and the No. 3 seeding for the Western Conference playoffs that comes with the title. San Jose, which also clinched a playoff berth with the Dallas loss, tried to intimidate the Kings early on, as its team captain, Joe Thornton, coaxed Drew Doughty into a fight for the first time this season. Though Doughty gave away about 30 pounds and took a couple good lefts to the face, his desire to throw blows with Thornton must have inspired his teammates. The Kings ended up with a two-minute power play following the scrap because Thornton was also called for cross-checking Doughty before the fight. While skating 4-on-3, the Kings scored when Anze Kopitar’s shot from the high slot rebounded off goalie Antti Niemi. The puck came straight back out, where Dustin Brown nudged it to the side, leaving Alec Martinez with an clear view to shoot the puck high in the net before Niemi could react. It was the sixth goal of the season for Martinez and the 49th assist for Kopitar, establishing a career high.

The bad: The Kings were completely dominating the game, out-shooting the Sharks, 18-3, and maintaining possession in their offensive zone for long stretches when San Jose scored out of the blue. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick kicked a long shot by Dominic Moore into the corner, where it was retrieved by defenseman Jason Demers. He passed to Daniel Winnick behind the net, then cut to the front where he got the puck back and scored his fourth goal of the season with 3:33 remaining. The way the Kings dominated the first 16 minutes, they deserved to go into intermission with more than just a tied score.

The in between: The Kings will still have 4:06 remaining to kill on a five-minute power play for the Sharks. Kings second-year forward Kyle Clifford hit Logan Couture from behind in front of the San Jose bench, and though the contact did not seem to severe, Couture crumpled to the ice and had to be helped to the locker room, while Clifford went to the box for a major boarding penalty. Kings defenseman Matt Greene also dropped the gloves for the first time, holding his own against San Jose alternated captain Ryan Clowe. The Sharks suffered another injury to one of the forwards when Torrey Mitchell was hit from behind by Colin Fraser in his offensive zone. Mitchell, who has nine goals and 10 assists this season, stayed on the ice for a couple minutes before he was helped to the locker room and did not return.

Kings: Hoping to stay hot vs. Predators

March, 17, 2012
Kings (34-25-12, 80 points) vs. Nashville Predators (41-21-8, 90 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. 71 down, 11 to go – The more the stakes rise, the better the Kings seem to be playing lately. They’ve won three straight games and seven of 10 since acquiring Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson. Better yet, they’ve scored 33 goals in those 10 games, much better than two-goal average they owned the first 61 games of the season. One game back of the final playoff spot heading into today, they can't afford to take a night off.

2. Streaking KingDustin Brown assisted on an empty-net goal by Mike Richards in the closing seconds of a 4-2 victory Friday night in Anaheim, setting a career high with at least a point in 10 consecutive games. The longest point streaks in the NHL this season are 12 by Eric Staal of Carolina and John Tavares of the Islanders. In case you’re wondering, the franchise record for the Kings is 25, shared by Wayne Gretzky (1990-91 season) and Bernie Nicholls(1984-85). Nicholls currently serves as an assistant coach with the Kings.

3. Young and hungry – Kings rookie forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan continue to contribute in ways that should keep them on the roster through the rest of the regular season. King had a team-high eight shots on goal against the Ducks, helping the Kings to a 43-20 advantage, and continues to fit in nicely on the second line with Carter and Richards. Nolan has settled into a fourth-line role with Colin Fraser and Kyle Clifford. He provided the screen that led to the first goal against Anaheim, a slap shot from the point by Alec Martinez.

4. Blue-line bonanza – Known for their mobile defensemen, the Kings received more than their share of contributions from the blue-line crew Friday night. Matt Greene matched his career-high with two assists, Drew Doughty also had two helpers and Martinez scored a goal, giving a defensemen a hand in every goal against the Ducks. Secondary scoring could be key against the Predators, who have the 10th-best defense in the league.

5. Power vs. power – The Predators continue to own the most efficient power-play unit in the league. They’ve scored on 21.4 percent of their man-advantage situations, including three power-play goals in the last three games. The Kings will match with the fourth-best penalty kill unit, which had its streak of 33 consecutive kills ended Friday night against Anaheim.