Kings playoff rookies benefit from veteran presence and advice

Kings playoff rookies benefit from veteran presence and advice

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Kings’ Anze Kopitar (11) is stopped by Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith (41) as Darnell Nurse (25) defends during the first period of Game 1 of a Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Monday in Edmonton, Canada. (Jason Franson / Associated Press)

The Stanley Cup playoff experience of eight members of the Kings doubled Wednesday when they stepped out to the ice at Rogers Place for Game 2 of the team’s first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers.

Defensemen Mikey Anderson, Sean Durzi, Matt Roy and Jordan Spence and forwards Quinton Byfield, Carl Grundstrom, Arthur Kaliyev and Blake Lizotte got their introduction to the thrills and chills of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the opener. That’s a lot of newbies. But the Kings haven’t hesitated to play their kids, sometimes when injuries made it a necessity but also because they’ve progressed to the point of being able to provide the quality depth the team previously lacked.

None of the newcomers appeared out of place in the opener, and all returned for Game 2. The Kings’ lineup was the same, with Alex Iafallo again taking Viktor Arvidsson’s place at left wing on the second line alongside Phillip Danault and Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore. Arvidsson remained out for undisclosed reasons, a phrase that becomes annoyingly familiar during the playoffs.

The overriding story line in this series is the matchup at center pitting Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl against the Kings’ Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault, but the performances of the Kings’ kids will have a big impact too.

“I think they did great,” said right wing Adrian Kempe said from the perspective of his six games’ Stanley Cup playoff experience.

“A lot of the older guys talk to them before games. It’s just another game at the end of the day, and it’s going to be more physical and stuff like that and I think they probably felt that the first period as well. And the atmosphere was good. That’s good things. Maybe you’re a little bit nervous before the games and stuff like that but the same goes for everybody. I think they did a hell of a job out there.”

The playoff rookies echoed a common theme when asked how they’ve been so poised. They credited the steadying presence and advice of two-time Cup winners Kopitar and Dustin Brown, and the otherworldly intensity of two-time Cup-winning goaltender Jonathan Quick, who on Wednesday made his 87th consecutive playoff start.

“You see how they handle themselves off the ice, how they take care of themselves,” Anderson said before Wednesday’s game. “They stay level-headed. Nothing really changes about their dynamic, and I think that’s something a lot of the young guys try and emulate, we try and take from them.”

Defenseman Drew Doughty, the other member of the core Cup quartet, is out for the season following wrist surgery but he accompanied his teammates to Edmonton. “He’s good to kind of keep everything loose, keep us relaxed,” Anderson said. “But those guys are awesome to have and we’re lucky to have them in the room.”

Durzi said the other day his playoff debut was “everything you dream of and more, honestly.” He played 18 minutes and 49 seconds, about a minute more than Anderson did.

“I think once you realize it’s hockey, you’ve done it your whole life, you play. You bring that intensity every night. It’s just another game,” Durzi said. “I thought once I got into the game I felt pretty good, and it went from there.

“We’ve got a good leadership group. I’d say probably the best in the league, from just my standpoint. Lucky enough to have the guys with experience, the guys who have guided us and kind of given their insight. But at the end of the day it’s a playoff game and I think every single guy in there knows what’s at stake and what you have to bring to the table.”

Kings' players celebrate.

Kings’ Phillip Danault (24), Sean Durzi (50), Trevor Moore (12), Alex Iafallo (19) and Mikey Anderson (44) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Monday. (Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

The stakes were equally high for the Oilers, who took a seven-game postseason losing streak into Wednesday’s game.

According to the NHL, teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series have a winning percentage of .866, including .808 when starting the series on the road. Though the Oilers finished merely five points ahead of the Kings during the season they were considered heavy favorites in this series because of the scoring exploits of newly minted four-time scoring champion McDavid and 2020 scoring champ Draisaitl. Each scored a goal in the opener but the Kings had a 4-1 edge in five-on-five scoring.

The Oilers stayed with goalie Mike Smith, whose stickhandling goof led to Danault’s winning goal in Game 1. However, they changed their alignment to 12 forwards and six defensemen, instead of 11 and seven, by inserting Josh Archibald on the left wing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Derek Ryan. Defenseman Kris Russell was scratched.

Archibald had been unable to travel to the U.S. because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19, but coach Jay Woodcroft said Archibald had been granted a medical exemption from being vaccinated because he had previously been diagnosed with myocarditis. “He’s a feisty type of guy, someone that gets in on the forecheck, finishes his check. Detailed checker,” Woodcroft said. “I think he’ll come into the lineup and give us a burst of energy.”

Young or old, the Kings aren’t in this just for thrills. They’re in it to win it. “We came into [the] last game and felt like we know they have a lot of pressure on them. We felt like we were a little bit the underdog but we came out there, we know we can beat them, we know how good we are when we play our game, and we got the first win,” Kempe said before the game.

Getting three more would make this series one for the ages —all ages.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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