Not that long ago, Los Angeles Kings’ rookie forward Dwight King was talking about the most famous residents of tiny Meadow Lake, Sask., population just over 4,000. Jeff Friesen would be a contender, after winning a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003. Blake Comeau, a former world junior champion and a regular for the Calgary Flames, might qualify too. King figured the winner was his older brother D.J. King, who played a bunch of games for the St. Louis Blues over the years and on Thursday night, was at the Staples Centre to watch his kid brother play.
Soon, the answer to the Meadow Lake trivia question may be Dwight King himself.
King joined the Kings midway through the season and all he’s done in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is score big goals for his team. It was King’s fourth goal of the series - and fifth of the playoffs - that broke a third-period tie and led Los Angeles to a 2-1 victory over Phoenix Thursday night. The win was the Kings’ eighth in a row in these playoffs and gave them a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference final, leaving Los Angeles just one victory away from its first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1993.
“With every win and every good performance out there, guys get a little more confident and trust each other a little more,” said King. “It’s going well.”
King joined the Kings at the same time as fellow rookie Jordan Nolan, promoted from the Kings’ farm team to provide a spark to a team muddling along on the cusp of the playoff picture. Coach Darryl Sutter stuck with them both, through thick and thin, and his patience has been rewarded in this series. The line of King, Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis have been exceptional against the Coyotes; and it’s a curious reversal of fortune considering how secondary scoring was an Achilles heel for L.A. for much of the regular season. According to team captain Dustin Brown, that shortcoming was remedied by two events in the second half: the call-ups of Nolan and King and the trade deadline acquisition of Jeff Carter.
“From those two points on, if you take that segment of games, we’re not having trouble scoring goals - and we’ve continued that in the playoffs,” said Brown. “Again, we’re getting timely scoring from different players every night. Kinger’s hot. It’s different guys every night.
“When you have multiple guys contributing that way, you find a way to lift each other up and lean on each other.”
Considering that King spent the first half of the season playing for the AHL Manchester Monarchs, this is a long way to come in a short period of time - and he gets that.
“This is any kid’s dream, being in this situation,” said King. “Having it all come true in this short amount of time, it’s been great.”
On the winning goal, the Coyotes’ Antoine Vermette was being called for a delayed penalty when King took the puck off the wall and snapped a shot past goaltender Mike Smith, high on the short side.
King said the play happened almost by accident: “I was expecting somebody to come to me, so I was kind of seeing who’s open. When they gave me the extra step, I just shot it.”
King isn’t taking his scoring heroics for granted, noting that on the one hand: “I’ve always scored a decent amount in my career. I mean, obviously with confidence and opportunity and a little bit of luck, they seem to be going in for me.
On the other hand, he acknowledged: “Obviously, it’s only been three games. There’s been nine before that, that I didn’t do anything. I know how easy it is to go back to there, so I just gotta continue to work.”
It was a game that could have gone either way - scoreless in a desultory first period; a brief burst of energy early in the second when Daymond Langkow and Anze Kopitar traded goals; and then a long, hard slog the rest of the way, punctuated by strong defensive commitment and a level of nastiness that is escalating as the series moves along.
It wasn’t just because the Coyotes dressed the Twitter king, Paul Bissonette (aka (@BizNasty2point0) for the first time in the series either. Bissonette went into the Coyotes’ line-up along with Marc-Antoine Pouliot, who replaced the suspended Martin Hanzal, though neither played much on the newly reformed fourth Coyotes’ line.
But Hanzal’s absence pushed Langkow up the depth chart and he responded with his first goal of the playoffs. It came 1:03 into the second period, Langkow finding a seam up the middle to catch the Kings flatfooted, Keith Yandle hitting him with a perfect pass. Langkow’s snap shot beat goaltender Jonathan Quick and put an end to a shutout streak that had lasted 102 minutes and 58 seconds, dating all the way back to the series opener. It also marked the first time since the first period of their second-round series against the St. Louis Blues that the Kings actually trailed in a game. Yes, they have been that good.
Phoenix’s lead lasted just a little over two minutes, however, or the time it took Kopitar to score on a breakaway goal, with a backhand deke along the ice that squeezed past Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith. It was a quick response by L.A. and settled the game right down, after a brief rush of excitement.
Emotions ran high all night, after a number of Kings’ players, including defenceman Willie Mitchell, were critical in pre-game comments of the single-game suspension assessed against Hanzal for his hit on Brown. Both Brown and Shane Doan, the respective captains, went hard at it, all night, playing hard physical shifts against each other and everyone else on the ice.
It was a war out there and among the notable niceties, Brown found himself on the receiving end of a world-class face wash from Doan in the second period. Later, Justin Williams received a crosscheck to the face from Michal Roszival later in the same period. Doan was also on the receiving end of a crosscheck from Kings’ defenceman Alec Martinez.
“Every game’s like that,” said Brown. “Phoenix was a lot better tonight, but we found a way to win. That’s what it takes at this time of year. If you’re not willing to do the little things and pay the price, you’re usually not playing at this time of year.”
The fact that the game was so close for so long had the teams maintaining their discipline far longer than they did two nights earlier. The Coyotes started reasonably well and gave it their best shot, but Los Angeles gradually took over and dominated the second half territorially. It ended with the ice tilted heavily in the Kings’ direction, their brilliant and unexpected playoff run showing no signs of coming to a end anytime soon.