Cross Checks: Dwight King

LOS ANGELES -- Just call them the Comeback Kings.

For the second straight game, the Los Angeles Kings stunned the New York Rangers with a manic and frenzied come-from-behind victory, knocking off the Blueshirts with a 5-4 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead as both clubs head back to New York for Games 3 and 4. The Kings have not led in regulation at any point throughout the first two games of Stanley Cup finals, and yet they won both contests.

Kings captain Dustin Brown scored the winning goal, snapping a 4-4 draw in double overtime to end what was a wildly entertaining playoff match that spanned more than four hours and featured a little bit of everything.

The Rangers, who squandered a 2-0 lead in Game 1 Wednesday night, held another 2-0 lead Saturday, a 3-1 and 4-2 advantage as well, but they couldn’t shut the door on the feisty Kings.

The Kings refused to go quietly despite staring down a 4-2 deficit in the third period, but their third goal did not come without a bit of the controversy.

Dwight King tipped one in for a goal that ignited a plucky Kings squad intent on staging another comeback, but both defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist were livid after the play, arguing with the nearest official about King’s contact with Lundqvist in the crease -- contact that they clearly felt impeded Lundqvist’s ability to make a save.

You could sense the Rangers start to unravel from there, with the Kings buzzing, the crowd getting into it, and the (dreadful) ice tilting in L.A.’s favor. So it was no surprise when leading playoff goal-scorer, and ex-Ranger Marian Gaborik tied the game at 7:36 with his 13th playoff goal this spring.

Rangers forward Chris Kreider has a pair of Grade-A chances in a enthralling overtime period, but couldn't find the back of the net.

Fast and furious: Just as they did in Game 1, the Kings made a big push in the second period. Los Angeles cut the Rangers’ 2-0 lead in half when Jarret Stoll buried the puck into an open net with Lundqvist down on his rear after making an initial save. Martin St. Louis continued his terrific spring, one-timing a shot past Jonathan Quick on the power-play to reclaim a two-goal Rangers lead -- his seventh goal of these playoffs. But when the Kings threatened again, pulling within a goal for the second time on Willie Mitchell’s man-up marker at 14:39, the Rangers made sure to snuff out the surge quickly. The Blueshirts responded in just 11 seconds with a goal from Derick Brassard to take a 4-2 lead into the third period. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that 11-second span was the quickest between two goals scored in a Stanley Cup finals game in 67 years.

Déjà vu: Stop me if this sounds familiar: Kings look sloppy with the puck (granted, the ice also appeared horrendous) and an opportunistic Rangers squad build a 2-0 first-period lead. The Rangers got on the board with defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s hard slapper from the left point at 10:48 of the first, a goal that was created by hard forechecking pressure that forced Game 1 hero Justin Williams to turn the puck over deep in his own zone. A flubbed pass from defenseman Matt Greene later in the period resulted in a sequence of scoring chances for New York that was capped by Mats Zuccarello’s rebound goal at the right post with 7:17 remaining in the period. The Rangers took a two-goal lead in Game 1, but the Kings came charging back for a 3-2 overtime win.

Surprising scratch: Though Kings coach Darryl Sutter said veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr would “probably play” and the 34-year-old himself admitted he was ready to return to the lineup after missing more than a month with a knee injury, Regehr was scratched for the second straight game this series. Though he took part in the pregame warmups, Greene remained in the starting lineup instead. Meanwhile, John Moore returned to bolster the Rangers’ back end after serving a two-game suspension for his hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Dale Weise in the Eastern Conference finals.

LOS ANGELES -- Game 7.

It explains itself.

No matter how many you’ve played, it’s special unto itself.

“If you don’t get butterflies, there’s something wrong with you,” said Los Angeles Kings veteran Justin Williams, who is 3-0 in Game 7s in his career with seven points (3 goals, 4 assists).

“But at the same time, control the butterflies, be calm, be confident; that’s how we aim to approach it,” Williams added after the morning skate at Staples Center.

Williams remembers how he felt before Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals; his Carolina Hurricanes had lost two straight to the Edmonton Oilers before finally finishing them off at home.

“We had lost Game 5 on a short-handed overtime goal, and then we got completely embarrassed in Game 6 [in Edmonton]. It wasn’t even close,” Williams said. “So, obviously, we had to regroup, refocus and maintain. Just like everyone says, ‘Hey, if you could play one game for the Stanley Cup, you guys would take it at the start of the year.’ That was the approach. I don’t think I slept that day, but I was ready to play.”

Loose Sharks

On Tuesday morning, the San Jose Sharks players were loose and relaxed again at the pregame skate.

It may mean nothing come game’s end Tuesday night, but it’s unmistakable that the Sharks are acting like they’re playing with house money.

“This team really does have a lot of fun with each other; we’ve really just enjoyed this run and we want to continue it after tonight,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after the morning skate.

Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle says it’s a different feeling this year for the Sharks, who didn’t enter the playoffs under the weight of expectations.

“For many years we’ve been picked [to go far] and people get disappointed year in and year out. This year it’s been the other way around, where we weren’t picked to win the first series [against the Vancouver Canucks] and we weren’t picked to win this one,” Boyle said. “It’s a different situation for us. Whether that’s good or bad, we’ll see. But not a lot of people thought we would be here at this point.”

Less than two months ago, the Sharks were in the process of trading away three veteran players: Ryane Clowe, Michal Handzus and Douglas Murray. And if the team had kept losing, who knows who else would have been gone.

“We were probably a couple of losses away from a big blowup; a couple of us were mentioned in trade rumors,” Boyle said. “We just stuck through it, came together as a team and have played very well since we made a couple of those deals.”

Ever since that day, the Sharks have played as if every day was a bonus for them. Which is why coach Todd McLellan said he’s not planning any big speech before Game 7.

“There are still things we need to address, but there isn’t a rah-rah speech that’s going to go on,” McLellan said. “They’re motivating themselves, they’re playing for each other. There’s nothing more powerful in sport than when a group of people come together and play for each other. If they have to play because the coach is motivating them, I don’t think we’ll be successful.”

Williams, though, downplayed San Jose’s underdog role. After all, he said, these teams were separated by only one point in the standings this season.

“You can say anything to make yourself think whatever you want,” Williams said. “In here, we don’t care. Underdog? They’re a successful hockey team, and so are we. You want to finish your season with a win. If you don’t, you get a sour taste for the summer, and we don’t want that tonight.”

Sutter demands more of LWs

Kings coach Darryl Sutter pointed to production -- or, rather, a lack thereof -- from the team’s left wingers as an issue heading into Game 7.

“We need more from our left side, period,” Sutter said Tuesday morning. “We’ve got two even-strength goals in the whole playoffs from our left side. When you’re talking about lines, that’s one of our three that aren’t pulling their weight.”

Captain Dustin Brown played left wing on the top line with Anze Kopitar until two games ago, when he was shifted to right wing on the third line and scored his team’s lone goal from that spot Sunday. He has three goals in 12 playoff games.

Sutter’s message was probably directed more toward left wingers Dustin Penner (two goals in 12 games) and Dwight King (no goals in 12 games).

First goal means something

The team scoring first in this series is 6-0. Scoring first seems to calm that team down and allow it to set the tone. It looms large heading into Game 7.

“Both teams rely heavily on their goaltenders, so I think getting that first goal kind of calms both benches down,” Thornton said. “I think it’s 70 percent in these playoffs -- if you score the first goal, that team wins. So it’s going to be huge for us tonight.”

Jumbo huge

Asked what the Sharks were doing well against them in this series, Brown pointed to one specific player: Thornton.

“He's been a pretty dominant force throughout the series,” Brown said. “He is really good on the offensive side of the puck. I think that's probably been the biggest part of the series for them is No. 19. From our blue line in, he's been really big and really hard. He's so big and strong, and then you add his skill level into it, it's a tough combo to defend. I think guys have battled hard against him, but he's been effective.”

Western parity

Both second-round series in the Western Conference need seventh games to decide them, a fact Sutter felt was reflective of the competition in the West.

“Look at it, our conference has four teams going to Game 7,” Sutter said. “It tells you how good the conference is and how close the teams are. That’s clear. There’s not a top to bottom, and it’s probably the way it should be.

“The teams are really, really close.”

LOS ANGELES -- The Kings’ new forward lines were still a go at the pregame skate Thursday morning, meaning captain Dustin Brown and star center Anze Kopitar were on different units.

If the morning lines stand for Game 5 Thursday night, Kopitar will start with Kyle Clifford and Justin Williams, and Brown will be on the third line with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King.

“When you score two goals in 120 minutes, you got to mix it around,” Brown said after the morning skate. “With Kinger and Lewis, they’re both really hard-working guys with pretty good skill low. They have that two-man cycle game down pat. For us, it should be about simplifying our game, getting it into their zone and cycling. The important thing, and I mentioned this to Lewy and Kinger: it’s one thing to cycle; we have to bring pucks to the net when we have the opportunity. Sometimes that’s just bearing down, dropping your shoulder and going. With the size and skill we have on this line, that should be our goal.”

For Clifford, it’s a big promotion from the fourth line to Kopitar’s line.

“It’s definitely a big role, I just have to play my game, keep it simple and not change anything,” Clifford said.

Dustin Penner remained with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Penner having joined that duo midway through Game 4 in San Jose -- although Penner’s promotion to that line doesn’t mean Kings coach Darryl Sutter is completely satisfied with his play in this series.

“We need a bigger, heavier game from Dustin Penner. Very simple,” Sutter said.

Stoll update

Jarret Stoll is still not close to playing -- he hasn’t even resumed skating -- but there was some news reported by Sutter on Thursday morning.

“He rode the bike yesterday for a few minutes,” Sutter said. “He’ll do that again today. It is protocol. Is it progress? It is if it’s good today [how he feels on the bike ride].”

Sharks at Staples

The Kings have won 12 straight at home, where they’re a comfortable bunch. What do the Sharks have to do to get traction here?

“I think we can build off of Game 2; we played a good enough game to win here,” center Logan Couture said. “Obviously we took a couple of penalties at the end of that game that cost us. I think we played a really good road game that night. Hopefully we can build off that.”

Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle agreed.

“It’s important for us not to be complacent, not to be satisfied with what we’ve done so far,” he said. “I’ve seen it in the past, I’ve been on teams where you come back a little bit in the series and then there’s a letdown, you almost exhale for a second. I just think this team needs to keep going on what we’ve done over the past four games. We just need to keep going.”

Better starts

The Sharks have had better starts three games in a row, and that’s something the Kings were keying on heading into Game 5.

“I think it’s based on your top guys,” Sutter said. “I know we keep coming back to that, but if you look at how especially their top two lines early have been really good, we’ve had to sort of weed into that. That’s the challenge for those groups.”

The Sharks know the Kings were preparing for a big start and have also talked about that heading into Game 5.

“The first 5-7 minutes are going to be important for our team,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re going to have to get on our toes and make sure that we’re aggressive and try to play those minutes in their end. I think they’ll try to make the start a focal point on their behalf. We have to be prepared for it.”

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There's a reason no team has won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98:

It's damn tough.

Reproducing the hunger and drive to go all-out over two months is mighty difficult. Once a player has done it, he realizes how much sacrifice it takes. He remembers what his body feels like at the end of it.

Two-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams knows that all too well.

"The parity of the league makes it a lot tougher. It’s hard [to repeat]," Williams said Wednesday after he and the Los Angeles Kings practiced. "It is a hard grind getting 16 wins throughout a postseason. But the trick is to make sure you have the same hunger that drove you last year, because you have won.

"That next Stanley Cup should be your favorite one. That’s what we're finding here, that's what we’re looking for. And there are teams in our way. We're still in a good spot."

The reigning Cup champion Kings do indeed control their fate despite having lost two straight to the San Jose Sharks and sitting in a 2-2 tie in the Western Conference semifinals. It's now a best-of-three series with two of those three games at home, where the Kings have dominated of late, winning 12 straight.

"We won the last game of the regular season for a reason," star center Anze Kopitar said. "We got to make it count."

It certainly isn't coming easily this spring for the Kings, who steamrolled through the playoffs last spring like the 1987 Edmonton Oilers.

Los Angeles was healthy and dominant a year ago, barely facing any adversity in going up 3-0 in all four series. It was silly, really.

Now the Kings get to experience the playoffs like normal contenders. You know, where you lose a game here and there. And lose a player here and there.

They're finding out that repeating is awfully tough.

"The physical part is obviously huge, but just the highs and lows that you go through, you got to be ready for that in your head," Kopitar said. "Last year we had a lot more highs than we had lows. This time it's a little bit different. Mentally, it's challenging. You have to take it as a new day and prepare that way."

This a good test for the Kings, who have character and guts. It would be a shock if they didn't raise their game to another level in Game 5 on Thursday at Staples Center.

This team still has the hunger.

"Absolutely, absolutely," said Williams, who appears to be playing banged up in this series. "We're professionals, we're here for a reason. That Stanley Cup, the big, silver jug, is the pinnacle of success in our professional life. Regardless of whether you've won it once, twice, five times, come playoff time that's all you want."

It won't all be solved between the ears, though.

There are X's-and-O's issues, too.

"We've just got to get more O-zone time and less D-zone. It's simple," said veteran defenseman Matt Greene, who got his first good look at the issues Tuesday night in his first game of this postseason.

"They’re a cycle team just like us, and the more they're in our zone, the less we're establishing our game plan and doing what we want behind their defensemen. That's it. It's pretty simple," Greene said. "There's no magic here. We just need more offensive-zone time."

The Kings haven't generated enough offensive pressure in this series. At least not the kind we’re accustomed to seeing from them.

To that end, head coach Darryl Sutter took his blender out Wednesday, shuffling the deck on his lines, at least for practice.

Captain Dustin Brown was off Kopitar's line and found himself on the third line with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King. Replacing Brown on Kopitar's line with Williams was Kyle Clifford. Dustin Penner skated with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, after Penner replaced King on that unit midway through Game 4.

"Quite honestly last night as the night went on we used a lot of different guys," Sutter said Wednesday when asked about the line changes. "Trying to get something going and generate a little bit more with some of our top guys."

The Brown-Kopitar-Williams unit just hasn't delivered enough. That's a big part of the issues, especially when you think back to both Brown and Kopitar generating playoff MVP votes last season.

"Quite honestly as a line, they've been struggling for two series, if you look at it," Sutter said.

It's clear that the coach isn't satisfied with too many of his forwards' production, other than Richards and Carter.

"I think we need four lines with some balance because really other than Richie and Jeff, we really haven't been able to play anybody to give us a little bit of energy and continuity," Sutter said.

The veteran Kings coach leaned back on the bench he was sitting on at this team's practice facility Wednesday and pointed out to the assembled reporters where this deadlocked series basically stands.

"The score is now 8-7 four games in, and we're winning 8-7," Sutter said.

In other words: They knew they were in for a fight with the Sharks, they're not surprised, they're not panicking, and they've got home-ice advantage.

The road to glory isn't so smoothly paved this year. A win Thursday night, however, would get the Kings back on track.

The Los Angeles Kings have re-signed playoff hero Dwight King for two more years.