- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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LOS ANGELES -- A one-game suspension to Martin Hanzal wasn’t enough in the eyes of some L.A. Kings.
"I mean, I know these games are probably worth more," Kings captain Dustin Brown, the victim of the boarding penalty, said Thursday morning. "I thought he was going to get two, but it’s not an easy decision to make. Especially considering we’re in the Western finals. As a player, you don’t really worry about the length. That’s something for the media which really likes to talk about considering the state of the game right now."
It’s because of the state of the game, and the rash of suspendable hits in this year’s playoffs, that veteran blueliner Willie Mitchell was disappointed in only one game for the Coyotes center.
Mitchell, whose career was nearly ended by a concussion he suffered after being pitched headfirst into the boards by Evgeni Malkin (who received no suspension for it), went off after veteran Vancouver Sun columnist Cam Cole asked him in our small scrum Thursday morning about the Hanzal suspension.
"I’m not particularly happy about it," Mitchell said. "You know, who am I, I’m just a player, but ... this stuff evolves over time, it gets better over time. I’d like to see [the suspension be] a little bit more, not just because we’re playing the Phoenix Coyotes right now, I just think messages need to be sent and it needs to be a little bit stiffer because what if Dustin Brown breaks his neck on that incident, as he very easily could have?
"A guy walks away with one game while the other guy is pushed away in a wheelchair? Is that what it’s going to take? I hope not," Mitchell added. "Brown’s in a very, very dangerous position, 4-5 feet from the boards, his back to the player, lots of time to ease up or just go in with the guy ... So no, I’m not a fan of it. I thought things had been going really well during the regular season, but in the playoffs it’s been a little different set of rules, and that’s kind of unfortunate because it’s not deterring the players enough, in my opinion.
"But it’s something to be talked about this summer, I’m sure it’s going to come up in collective bargaining -- it’s something that will need to be addressed. I think if you look around the league, the majority of players want to see stiffer suspensions, and bigger fines because it deters players that way."
Brown finished the game and wasn’t seriously hurt, which influences the decision in league discipline.
"Unfortunately," Mitchell said. "But I’ve said it from the start, if you rob a bank and it’s got $100 million in it, or it’s got five bucks in it, you’re still doing the time. That’s how it should be mandated. I don’t know all their criteria, Brendan [Shanahan] and the rest of the gang, it’s not an easy job, I know that too, but I think it almost needs to come to a system where it’s 5-10-20 format, where it takes emotion, takes everything out of the equation -- it’s just what it is, and you live and die by the sword. That way there can be no complaining on either end."
Head coach Darryl Sutter kept his words to a minimum on the Hanzal suspension.
"Obviously, that’s what the league viewed it as. Just thankful Brownie didn’t get hurt," said Sutter, and you can easily read between the lines on that one.
As for the Coyotes, they were already hard-pressed to have a full lineup and it gets worse without No. 1 center Hanzal.
"It is what it is," said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett at his Thursday morning availability. "We've got to focus on the players that are coming in, on a game plan that we feel we can be successful with. Certainly like to have Marty in there, but it's not a factor tonight, so we have to concentrate on the other options."
Hanzal was not available to the media Thursday.
Veteran Coyotes blueliner Derek Morris pointed to the fact Hanzal did miss half of his team’s first-round series with Chicago.
"We missed him for a bit in the first round against Chicago, he’s a huge part of our team but we found way to win games," Morris said Thursday morning. "He logs a lot of minutes, he’s a big body, good on draws, we can’t replace him with one guy. So we have all have to pick it up a little bit."
Down 2-0 in a series almost nobody in the hockey world is giving them a chance to come back in after dropping the first two at home, Morris insisted the team’s frame of mind was in the right place heading into Thursday night’s game.
"The mood is good," Morris said. "If we were playing our best hockey and losing, I think we’d be frustrated. But we’re not playing as good as we can. We know we have another gear to give, and if we go out and get that, we’ll be OK."
The Coyotes know they’re being written off. So be it, they say.
"It’s kind of how it’s been every single series," Morris said, smiling. "We’ve been written off every series. We believe in ourselves. We know this is a tremendous opportunity. Most of us on this team have never had this opportunity. So we’re excited about it and we know what we have to do."
Kings fight complacency
The Kings have found a way to go for the kill in each round, winning Game 3 when up 2-0 against Vancouver and St. Louis.
It’s the same challenge Thursday night at home to a desperate Phoenix team.
"I think we’re aware of where we are, what could be possible, and how hard we have to work to get it done,” said Kings blueliner Willie Mitchell. "We went in there and took two, they can easily come in here and take two, right? I’ve been on the other side of the fence over the years. So, we’re quietly confident in how we’re playing and feel like we’re doing a lot of good things and generating a lot of shots and obviously getting some really good goaltending. But it can change in a hurry. A two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, right? Well, that’s what we’re looking at right now in this series. This one is really important tonight. As a group, we’re just going about our business like we have since the playoffs have started."
Head coach Darryl Sutter, who has pressed all the right buttons on his team this spring, feigned disappointment in his team’s Game 2 performance -- a 4-0 win -- as a way to get their attention before Thursday night.
"The biggest thing -- and I heard John Tortorella say it, and he’s dead on -- you got to keep getting better and if you’re not, you’re going to get beat," Sutter said Thursday morning. "And it’s going to happen. When you have individuals that go in and out and it gets overshadowed when you won a game -- then you have a problem. That’s why I wasn’t crazy about our last game because I thought we had guys who didn’t play very well. And they’re going to have to play a hell of a lot better for us to match up against some of these guys tonight."
Unhappy with a 4-0 win? The Kings are grasping for motivation.
Brown down on diving call
Kings captain Dustin Brown still can’t believe he was called for diving after Coyotes goalie Mike Smith slashed him in Game 2.
"Quite surprised," Brown said. "I don’t really understand it. Even when it [the slash] came down from over his head. I still don’t understand it watching the clip. But most refs haven’t been slashed in the back of the leg, either."
Crashing the crease
The Coyotes aren’t happy with the way the Kings are crashing their crease, in some cases literally sitting on goalie Mike Smith. They point to Jordan Nolan of the Kings doing just that in Game 2.
"It’s one thing when they’re getting pushed on me," Smith said Thursday morning. "It’s another thing when they’re embellishing it and ending up on top of me. I’m not complaining. It’s that time of season where you need to get traffic in front, but obviously it needs to be addressed."