EL SEGUNDO – Given his age and playful demeanor, Drew Doughty often fills the little-brother role in the Kings locker room. It’s completely different on the ice, where the Kings need to follow Doughty’s lead.
All around him, in Game 5 against Chicago, the Kings’ defense devolved into a slurry of turnovers, inaccurate passes, penalties and blown assignments. For a team that prides itself on defensive structure, Wednesday’s loss was perhaps the least Kings-like performance of their 19-game playoff run. Then there was Doughty.
Doughty played 39 minutes, 4 seconds, the most ice time he’s ever had in an NHL game. Doughty also played 10:31 in overtime (out of a possible 22:04), at a time when legs and brains start to get tenderized.
“Your heart doesn’t get tired,” Doughty said Thursday, and that pretty much explains it all. Doughty, at 24, is still a kid playing a man’s game, but he’s playing it like a man.
The Kings lead, 3-2, in the Western Conference final, with Game 6 on Friday night at Staples Center, but they’re in a tenuous spot. A loss sends the series to Game 7 in Chicago, where the Blackhawks rarely lose.
“We know we can’t let it go to Game 7,” Doughty said. “No matter what, this game has to be ours.”
Doughty said after his monster Game 5, which included a game-high nine shots on goal and a plus-2 rating, he didn’t sleep on the four-hour flight back to Los Angeles. One might think he was kept awake thinking about the wide-open nature of the game, which played to the strengths of Chicago’s talented forwards.
The teams combined for 89 shots on goal. Yes, the Kings scored four goals and were one break from a victory, but the Blackhawks are generally much more comfortable in a high-skating, lower-hitting game.
“We’ve got to check them better,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “There’s really not a special formula. You’ve just got to eliminate time and space, because when they do start carrying the puck all over the ice, it’s hard to catch them.”
A line-combination change paid dividends for Chicago. The first line of Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa had some chances, but it was the second line – Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane – that dominated. Saad had a goal, and the three players combined for eight assists.
“I think we kind of let some of their top guys off the hook,” Doughty said. “They switched the lines up, but that doesn’t really affect us with matchups. We still need to play harder against their top guys. If we give Kane space out there to kind of weave around and make plays, he’s going to make us hurt.”
It wasn’t Doughty’s fault. He and partner Jake Muzzin each had a plus-2 rating. The other four defensemen, Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene and Alec Martinez, each had a minus-1 rating.
Of course, credit the Blackhawks, who used a relentless start to take a 2-0 lead less than four minutes into the game, then didn’t wilt when the Kings rallied to lead, 4-3, at the end of the second period.
Credit, also, Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who looked shaky early, when he gave up four goals on 25 shots, but then stopped all 19 shots he faced from the start of the third period until Michal Handzus’ overtime winner.
The Blackhawks are attempting to rally from a 3-1 series deficit for a second consecutive year, after last year’s second-round comeback against Detroit.
“It all comes from the character in the room and the personality on our team,” defenseman Michal Rozsival said. “There’s always been belief. We know we have the right tools on our team to do anything. We believe in ourselves and even though we have our backs against the wall there was never anything short of belief.”
DAY OF REST
The Kings stayed off the ice Thursday, but are expected to hold a full-team morning skate at Staples Center on Friday. Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr, who has missed 11 games with a knee injury, did an on-ice workout with assistant coach John Stevens, but Regehr has yet to participate in a full-team practice.
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