Three Kings putting on show against Blackhawks
Kings linemates Jeff Carter (left) and Tyler Toffoli skate toward the bench after Carter scores a third-period goal in Game 3 against the Blackhawks. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports)
What Jeff Carter is delivering for the Los Angeles Kings almost seems too much to ask.
Can you imagine a coach walking up and down his bench, his team trailing 1-0 in the series and 2-0 in Game 2 on the road, and challenging someone, anyone, to score a third period hat trick and put up seven points in the next 80 minutes and put the defending Stanley Cup champions on the ropes?
But that’s exactly what the Kings needed, so the last thing Carter must have said before stepping over the boards was, ‘Don’t worry coach, I got this.’
Four goals, three assists and two convincing wins later, the Kings have assumed control of the Western Conference final and Carter is once again the man of the post-season hour.
“He steps up in big times, he’s a big goal scorer,” said longtime running mate Mike Richards, in the calm before Monday’s Game 4 storm. “He’s always a confident player on the ice. He’s always stepped up ever since I’ve known him. In the playoffs he has always been a guy who, in big games and situations, steps up.”
Carter, and linemates Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli have beem stepping all over Chicago for two days. They have become a three-man wrecking crew, scoring six of the Kings last nine goals, combining for 12 points in the last four periods and moving Los Angles two wins away from of a berth in the Stanley Cup final.
“It’s been great,” said Carter, who at 29 is seven years older than Toffoli and eight years older than Pearson. “Obviously they have a lot of chemistry from playing together in (AHL) Manchester. They’re working and they’re having fun. They use their speed and their skill to create opportunities. Kind of dragging me along with them, so it’s been good.”
They call them That 70s Line on account of Carter wears 77, Pearson 70 and Toffoli are 73, but they might want to go with the Eighty-Sixed Line because that’s what they’re doing to the Hawks.
“That whole line has created a lot of momentum for our team,” said Richards. “Whenever the other team is starting to create momentum, they step up in a big way.
“Those three, they don’t need much room, they just seem to find the areas. They’re all natural goal scorers, especially Jeff, he doesn’t need many chances.”
How good is it when the line of Brown, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik can be an afterthought? While the top lines from each team have been playing to a virtual stalemate in this series (Jonathan’s Toews’ two-goal outburst in Game 3 aside), Carter and the two kids have torn away at Chicago’s supporting cast, stealing hockey’s biggest stage from the marquee superstars.
“Those guys have played in big games before,” said Carter. “Working their way up through junior and whatnot. They’re great players. Great players shine at big times.
“They use their speed. They keep the puck going ahead. Obviously when they get chances, they got as much skill as anybody on the team. They’ve been showing it.”
Credit L.A.’s drafting and development systems. They took Pearson 30th overall in 2012 and Toffoli 47th in 2010. A few years later they’ve got a couple of 200-pound forwards with speed and skill and everyone is asking where they came from.
“They’ve been our hottest line probably dating back to the end of Anaheim series,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “It’s not a shock to see Carts score goals like he does, but those other two guys have come up and really stepped up their game and are playing at an elite level.”
At 21 and 22. It’s no coincidence that teams like Los Angeles and Chicago keep unveiling these types of discoveries. Great organizations find the right players and bring them up the right way.
“Tanner has that speed, he gets on the defenceman quickly, gets to pucks,” said Richards. “And Tyler is just a smart hockey player. I played with him a little bit over the last couple of years and he just seems to find that open ice and has that knack for where he needs to be. It’s something you can’t teach.
“They’re big guys who have that size advantage. They’re tenacious, have young legs. Whatever it is they seem to have a lot of energy and as a team right now we’re feeding off of that.”
IT’S DO OR DIE FOR BLACKHAWKS
The difference between 2-2 and 3-1 is the difference between a fighting chance and series over, so the Chicago Blackhawks have no choice but to draw their line in the sand deep in enemy territory.
Anything other than a win in Game 4 on Monday in Los Angeles and their hopes of repeating as Stanley Cup champions are all but dead.
It’s an arrangement they’re OK with.
“This series is far from over,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. “We’re excited in our room for what we’re capable of doing. We’ve been able to get out of this position before. That only helps you and your confidence.
“I think we just want to go win Monday. We’re not focused on anything else. That’s our No. 1 task right now. We’ll go into Monday’s game planning on winning and go from there.”
In a bizarre coincidence, that’s L.A.’s plan, too.
“We feel good about our game,” said Jarret Stoll. “We know we can bring it. In front of our home crowd, we’ve got to take advantage of this opportunity.”
He says expect more of what you saw in Game 3, only harder.
“Yeah, just that aggressive style, in their face, trying to frustrate them, try to let them know it will be a tough game,” said Stoll. “If we start with the puck, they’re going to have to come through us 200 feet to beat us. Have that attitude and mindset.”