Allan Maki shares his opinion on the previous night's NHL action and looks at the early news of the day Monday through Friday during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It turned out Mike Richards wasn't "fine" for Sunday's Game 2 and now neither are the rest of the Los Angeles Kings.
The truth, in the wake of a 4-2 loss that has the defending Stanley Cup champions down 2-0 in the Western Conference final, is that the Kings are not okay. Neither are they fair, sufficient, honky dory or anywhere near satisfactory. They're in trouble, and there's no way to couch it.
You could see that in a setback lit up with warning flares. It started with Richards, who was shook up after a late hit in Saturday's Game 1 and was supposedly fine enough to play Game 2, according to head coach Darryl Sutter, only that wasn't the case. Richards took part in the pregame warm-up then was scratched with "an upper-body injury." Didn't feel well was the official word.
From there, things only got worse for the Kings. They gave up a goal early and late in the first period. They gave up four goals by the midway point of the second period, one of which was scored by their own defenceman, Robyn Regehr. They saw their superstar netminder, Jonathan Quick, chased to the bench on just 17 shots. It was the first time in almost two months Quick bad been pulled.
"We had some nice shots," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "We had some high-quality stuff off the rush, as well, in that period. I still think that's going to be an ongoing challenge with him.
Some nights they go in."
When the playoffs opened and L.A. trailed the St. Louis Blues 2-0, things looked bad. But they're worse now because Chicago is a higher cut of opponent – deeper, faster, the best team in the NHL over the 48-game regular season, and that was proven in the last round, too. Trailing the Detroit Red Wings 3-1, the 'Hawks came back to win the series, vowing not to put themselves in a similar plight against L.A.
"This time of year you try to carry momentum as long as you can," said Chicago sniper Patrick Sharp. "We felt great about coming back in that Detroit series. Game 7 was a huge high for us."
There's no doubt the Kings have been outstanding at the Staples Center, where the series continues Tuesday. They've won 14 games in a row there, including all seven in the playoffs. But with Richards sidelined, with Jarret Stoll coming off a concussion, with Anze Kopitar not scoring and Quick being beaten and benched, L.A. is not playing near the level needed to get past Chicago.
Comments to the contrary, the Kings are not fine. They're in a most precarious state.
Just the mention of Matt Cooke's name is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and boo.
When it comes to dangerous hits and reckless play, Cooke can't out-skate his reputation or his knack for leaving sprawled bodies in his wake. It's what he does – is allowed to do – and it happened again in Game 1 against the Boston Bruins when he crunched defenceman Adam McQuaid into the end glass with a direct slam from behind. That hit got Cooke tossed but not suspended for Monday's Game 2 in Pittsburgh. (Had McQuaid been injured, Cooke would have been sitting out games. McQuaid, though, returned to action soon after the play and that had to factor into the NHL's decision not to suspend.)
The Penguins are happy to have the irascible Cooke remain in their lineup. When he plays within the rules, he's a sneaky, shifty forward who can score goals, occasionally. His coach, of course, didn't see a great deal wrong with what he did to McQuaid.
"I don't think it was a rough hit," Dan Byslma said Sunday. "I think he was going into the boards. It was right from the numbers. I'm not sure I thought it warranted a five-minute penalty."
Instead, the Penguins pointed out Boston's Brad Marchand threw a blindside hit at their James Neal and somehow managed to escape with only a two-minute penalty. Marchand, who has a budding reputation of his own, watched the replay from the penalty box and was visibly upset at having been penalized at all. He saw nothing wrong with what he did. That kind of on-the-edge player rarely does.
What was clear in Game 1 was how much the Bruins can dominate physically and how the Penguins best ploy may come from getting the referees to call things tighter. Sidney Crosby tried to make that point both during and after the series opener.
"The more it gets like that, the more it escalates," said Crosby. "I think that's something we want to stay away from but it's kind of a natural thing when it gets like that."
What he meant was: if the refs let the Bruins play their maul-and-grind style, the Penguins are in trouble; the refs call more penalties, Pittsburgh gets more power play time and it can make Boston pay dearly. Think of it as the gaming within the games.
One thing is certain: with Cooke and Marchand both playing and playing on the brink, the heat of this series is going to increase. Bet on it being scalding before too long.
Those L.A. Kings, they sure know how to have fun on the road.
When they checked into their hotel in Chicago, they were greeted by scores of people dressed up as Captain James T. Kirk and first officer Spock. Turned out the hotel was staging a Star Trek convention, complete with guest appearances by Star Trek: The Next Generation actors Sir Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton.
Were the Kings put off by seeing so many futuristic beings, including some with pointed ears?
"Actually, this is pretty tame compared to what we saw in San Jose," L.A. captain Dustin Brown said of his team's last playoff viewing. "That was Anime, so that one was a little more bizarre."