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Another Miracle...Almost

by Gann Matsuda

February 23, 2008

LOS ANGELES — The concept of playing defense was definitely not the first thing on the minds of the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks who squared off in front of an announced sell-out crowd of 18,118 fans at Staples Center during a matinee shootout on Saturday.

Jonathan Toews scored a goal and added an assist and Patrick Sharp scored two goals, including the game-winner, and added an assist to lead the Blackhawks to a 6-5 overtime victory over the Kings.

After the two teams played a fairly even first period that ended in a 1-1 tie after Sharp and Kings rookie defenseman Peter Harrold traded goals, the Kings left their game in the dressing room during the first intermission.

Martin Havlat, Andrei Zyuzin, Jonathan Toews and Jason Williams scored easy goals in a span of just 4:06, with three of the goals coming on blatant defensive breakdowns by the Kings, while Toews’ goal was a soft one allowed by Dan Cloutier, who got the start in goal for the Kings.

To be sure, the Kings fell completely apart in the second period, and Kings rookie defenseman Jack Johnson best described his team’s lackluster play.

“We had a few minutes where we were terrible,” said Johnson. “Cloutier was playing well and the team in front of him sucked.”

“That was our six or seven minutes that we have sometimes,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “They scored those goals and that cost us the game.”

Kings head coach Marc Crawford said that his team was totally out of sync in the second period.

“We got out of sync in the second period,” Crawford lamented. “For five minutes, we were totally out of sync. We gave up some uncharacteristic big chances. We left Danny alone.”

“I thought we had a great first period,” Crawford elaborated. “It seemed as though timing kind of got to us in the second period. There was the fight with [Dustin] Brown and [Brent] Seabrook, so we didn’t have Brown for those five minutes and Dustin’s a big part for what we do. He often plays on two lines. Not having him probably threw us out of sync. It threw our lines out of sync a little bit.”

Crawford added that his team was standing around, watching the ’Hawks skate around the Kings’ zone.

“We got caught standing still,” said Crawford. “And when you get caught standing still, especially in defensive coverage against a team that skates very well and has good puck movement, that’s a team that has as good of forwards as there is in the National Hockey League.”

“They tax you,” added Crawford. “They’ve got the young [Tuomo] Ruutu kid playing on arguably their fourth line and he’s a talented player. All those other guys, Toews and [Patrick] Kane and [Robert] Lang and Williams. You go down that list and see their all talented forwards. We unfortunately didn’t collapse back, we left some open space and they took advantage of it.”

Contributing to the ’Hawks big second period was the emotional lift provided by defenseman Brent Seabrook, who immediately went after Brown after he nailed Toews near the Kings’ blue with a hard, open-ice hit.

“He hit Toews pretty good, so I just thought I’d let them know that’s not going to be allowed,” Seabrook explained, “[Toews is] one of our best players, and you can’t have that happen. You have to protect them and stand up for each other. They can’t be running at our players like that. I don’t know if it’s my role to go out and fight every night, but I’m definitely going to take exception when their guys are running our guys. We’re not going to take that.”

“I don’t know if it sparked [his teammates],” Seabrook added. “The guys had a great second period. It seemed like they were just finding the open spots and getting good shots on net.”

Seabrook’s coaches and teammates definitely took inspiration from Seabrook.

“Seabrook has stepped up now twice in the last week for his teammates,” said Chicago head coach Denis Savard. “That’s part of being a team that’s jelling.”

“He’s proven he’s going to be there the last few games with guys going after [Patrick] Kane and myself and other guys,” said Toews. “That’s good leadership and shows the other team we’re not going to back down from that kind of stuff. You appreciate it when you’ve got a guy in the locker room who is going to stick up for you like that.”

“I was a little angry after that hit, so I wanted to go and get something done,” added Toews. “It gives you a little bit of adrenaline, and I was lucky enough to create a few chances.”

Although he cannot be blamed entirely for the goals he allowed, Cloutier, who was yanked after Williams scored at the 8:17 mark and was replaced by rookie goalie Erik Ersberg, pointed to himself as being a part of the problem.

“I’ve got to be better on some of those goals,” he said “I know it’s a young team. We’ve been saying that for two years now and I think it’s time to come up with something else. I’m an older guy. I have to make saves at certain times of the game. We’re down 2-1, there’s still a lot of hockey left.”

Little did Cloutier know how prophetic his last words above would be.

Down 5-1 after two periods, all seemed lost. But the Kings had other ideas.

Although it took them a little while to get things going, Cammalleri knocked in a rebound from the goal mouth at the 9:06 mark for his 16th goal of the season and his first since December 21 at Columbus before he went down with a rib cartilage injury that forced him to miss 17 games.

And then the floodgates opened, as the Kings crashed the front of the Chicago net and started activating defensemen, including Tom Preissing, who moved into the right circle where he took a pass from Cammalleri and fired a one-timer that beat Chicago goaltender Patrick Lalime top shelf, upper right corner of the net.

Crawford pulled Ersberg for the extra attacker at the 17:23 mark and the gamble paid off big.

Patrick O’Sullivan scored from right crease at 18:53 to move the Kings to within a goal of the ’Hawks. But not long after, it looked like the ’Hawks would score an empty-net goal to seal the win.

Indeed, Toews had the puck on left wing at the Kings’ blue line with an empty net in front of him. But Johnson dove and got his stick on Toews’ shot, blocking what was a certain goal.

That gave the Kings one more chance to tie the game, and Kopitar took a pass from Alexander Frolov and re-directed the puck past Lalime from left crease at the 19:45 mark for his 27th goal of the season and a 5-5 tie—the Kings had come all the way back.

“We said that we’re going to come out aggressive and that we’re not going to quit, just go out there and try to put up as many pucks on the net,” Kopitar explained. “If not score right off the first shot at least try to create some scrambles. I think we did pretty good in the third.”

“It’s tough, especially because we were on the ropes pretty much the whole third period,” Kopitar elaborated. “We didn’t score right off the bat. But the second half of the period was really strong. I think we dominated that period.”

Crawford was quite pleased with his team’s character and strong play in the third period.

“We were able to regroup at the end of the second period and I thought we got the game back to where we at least got a few chances,” said Crawford. “And then in the third it was just a matter of staying with it. The guys did a terrific job of getting pucks to the net and battling.”

“The compete they had to show in the third period was an extremely high level of compete,” added Crawford. “That’s a desperate team over there. They still think they have a chance and don’t think they sat back on it at all because they didn’t. We had to force our way through to get all those chances and those goals. They were all hard-working, go to the net, crash the net type of goals.”

“That’s a compliment that we were able to respond and rebound like that. I thought that it’s a real character builder for our team. We’ve done it twice now—comeback. We’ve won one and lost one of them. That doesn’t take away from it. Those are real character builders and hopefully they gives our guys a lot of insight into what you have to do and how hard you have to work to be successful.”

And then there was the play of the game.

“When we made it 5-2, that’s the first one,” said Crawford. “The 5-3 goal we recognized OK, now we got to make a real strong push. We knew we were going to pull our goalie and try and see if we could get it going and we got it. We got the one with one minute to go. We still had our time out left and we were able to utilize that. And I think Jack Johnson made the play of the game. His effort to fight off a very competitive Toews and keep the play alive. Then we went down, Frolov showed a lot of patience with the puck and I’m not even quite sure who got the goal, but obviously it was a real good battle at the net.”

“That was a big play,” said Kopitar. “I was just talking to Cammy, we had kind of let it go already. Toews was skating on the ice, and I saw him wanting to shoot and thought OK, that should be the game over. Not a lot of guys miss that. But JJ made that play, everything turned around and the crowd got buzzing again. We put some pucks on the net and managed to score that fifth one.”

Johnson said that he got lucky on the play.

“I just got lucky,” he said. “If I did that one hundred more times, I don’t think I’d bat it out of the air like that again. But I’ll take it. I think he gave up a little bit on the play there and I took one more stride to catch up to him. There was still plenty of time to make another attack at them so I thought I’d try to catch him and make a last-ditch effort.”

“We went out knowing we had scored like that before so we could do it again,” he added. “There was twenty minutes of hockey left to be played and that’s a lot of time. The only thing that crossed my mind was that we really could come back and win this. We’re happy we got to overtime and we’re disappointed that we couldn’t steal two points. But we’ll take a point from that.”

“It was too bad we didn’t go all the way,” Kopitar lamented. “But this team showed a lot of character. Going down 5-1 into third period, we’ve been down four goals in the third before, but you go out there and try to work hard, show some emotion and show that you’re not quitting. And then the goals start coming, everyone gets excited, and I think we deserved that tie in the end.”

A side story in this game was the strong play in goal by Ersberg, who was making his National Hockey League debut. He was not tested much when he entered the game, but he ended up stopping a breakaway by Sharp and made a number of other difficult saves in the third period.

“I thought when he came in he did what you expect,” Crawford explained. “We weren’t very good, let’s face it. For the five minutes in the second period, we were terrible. We got out of sync, we had to change some momentum. So he came in.”

“He didn’t have much work in the second but he had to make those two big saves in the third, especially the breakaway on Sharp,” Crawford emphasized. “Unfortunately, he gets tagged with the defeat but that was a pretty good outing for him and he was as big a part of the point as anybody in the room.”

“He kept us in the game too,” said Kopitar. “He stopped that breakaway on Sharp. He made some good saves. That was really good for him and for us to see he is a good goalie. We were working for him too. It’s hard to come into the net down 5-1, you’re not going to be really excited as you would be at the beginning of the game.”

Ersberg said that his NHL debut did not give him the butterflies in his stomach that so many rookies talk about when describing their feelings going into their first NHL game.

“We had a kind of a meltdown there, I guess, defensively,” Ersberg said about the second period. “You start realizing you might be going in. You don’t have to think too much. When the coach calls you, you just have to go in and do your job. I wasn’t too nervous. I felt pretty good. I got a good start on a couple of easy shots and then you just keep on going.”

“When you come in from the bench, you don’t have time to think,” Ersberg added. “You just go in and play. We were down 5-1. You can’t lose anymore. I just had to go in and do my job. The guys scored some goals for me.”

“It’s always better to start. You have all the preparations before the game. But it’s not too bad coming in either. You’ve got to prepare for that too, especially over here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, there’s more pulled goalies than there is in Sweden.”

When Ersberg entered the game the Kings got their heads back into it as well.

“Maybe they thought they had to step it up when I came in,” said Ersberg. “Sometimes when you change the goalies it helps.”

Stopping the other team’s top scorer on a breakaway really helps as well.

“It’s always nice to save breakaways, especially when you’re making a late comeback like we did and trying to help the team get a point,” said Ersberg.

“Ersberg had to make a couple of saves, especially on the breakaway,” said Crawford. “When you’re taking chances, you’re going to give up some chances, especially to a team that has good offensive ability and good speed.”

Ersberg got the best of Sharp in the third period, but Sharp would get the last laugh when he fired a wrist shot off a rebound from the lower right circle, beating Ersberg just inside the right goal post for the overtime game-winner.

“It was a shot in traffic,” Ersberg explained. “I got it on my arm but it bounced right to some guy’s stick and he knocked it in. It’s a little sour, but we got one point and I guess that’s pretty good when you’re down 5-1.”

To be sure, the ‘Hawks gave the Kings some help in the third period.

“Basically what happened in the third is we got sloppy in our own end,” said Savard. “Our best players have to play defense. I don’t care what the score is, you’ve got to think of your goalie and you got to think that we’re playing [on Sunday] too and save some energy. You don’t save energy playing in your own end the whole third period.”

“Hockey games are never over,” Savard added. “If you give a team the chance to come back, they’re going to take it. That is a team that can score goals. We talked about that before the game. We executed our game, protected the puck and didn’t turn it over. We just didn’t have good coverage.”

Nevertheless, the ’Hawks managed to salvage the win, even though they had to go into overtime after blowing a four-goal lead.

“I think we would have been pretty sick with ourselves if we had come out on the losing end of that game,” said Toews. “We can’t be happy with this game the way we came out in the third and let them come back in the game. When they tied it up, you’re pretty much on your heels, and it’s hard to stay positive when they’re so confident and have to much momentum.”

“We’re going to play some better teams coming up and we can’t give them a sniff like that at the end,” added Toews.

The ’Hawks, who are still battling for a playoff spot, really needed the extra point in the standings.

“I think if it was a team ahead of us on the standings we would be pretty [ticked] off we gave them one point,” said Chicago defenseman James Wisniewski. “Luckily, Los Angeles is behind us. We’ll take the two points and just run and make it a learning experience. Up four goals you can’t let up.”

“We were all pretty rattled, but we still had five minutes [of overtime] to get another point, and we wanted to start quick,” said Seabrook. “We realized what we just let slip away and we wanted to come out and get that extra point.”

“At this time of year, you’ve got to take the wins any way you can get them,” said Sharp. “We’ve got to forget about that third period and be happy with the win we got.”

As for the rebuilding Kings, the game was not a total loss.

“This is as good an overtime loss as you’re ever going to see,” Crawford said. “It was special to see our guys battle the way that they did and everybody had to be involved in it. All twenty players played in the third period, and I thought all twenty players contributed.”

“The real gratifying thing was we didn’t stray from what we needed to do,” Crawford emphasized. “We had to get pucks to the net, we had to get bodies to the net, we had to outmuscle them for goals and that takes determination. I really compliment our guys. That was a lot of blood and guts there in the third period. And as I said, it was a real team effort to be able to come back like that.”

“Down 5-1 in the NHL, going into the third period, is not easy to do,” said Cloutier. “That was a character builder. It’s the way we get down, the chances we allow for five or six minutes. It’s hard to pinpoint it. If we could find a way to start games the way we played in the third period, we’d be a hell of a hockey team.”

Indeed.

NOTES: With a goal and two assists, Kopitar has 27 goals and 33 assists, good for 60 points, just one point shy of the 61 points he tallied last season. Cammalleri also had a goal and two assists in the game, while Frolov contributed two assists. Harrold’s goal in the first period was his first NHL goal.


THREE STARS (OFFICIAL)
#3 - Havlat; #2 - Kopitar; #1 - Duncan Keith (Chicago)

ONLINE KINGDOM’S THREE STARS
#3 - Toews: Goal, assist. Second-best player for the ’Hawks.
#2 - Kopitar: Goal, two assists; scored the tying goal near the end of the third period.
#3 - Sharp: Two goals, assist. Scored the overtime game-winner.

For more information, including more interviews with the players and coaches, we invite you to check out:

OFFICIAL SCORING AND STATISTICS
NHL Scoresheet
NHL Superstats
NHL Play-By-Play

WIRE SERVICE REPORTS
Associated Press Report From ESPN.com

LOCAL NEWSPAPERS/SITES
Daily News
Kings At Their Best And Worst In Loss

Inside The Kings
Matthew Kredell’s Blog Entries Covering the Game

Los Angeles Times
Kings Lose To Blackhawks

CHICAGO NEWSPAPERS
Chicago Daily Herald
Twist Ending For Blackhawks
Seabrook Puts Up A Fight For Teammates

Chicago Sun-Times
Hawks Stay On Roll

Chicago Tribune
Sharp’s OT Goal Wins It

NEXT GAME: The Kings get a few days away from game action befor they head back out on a four-game road swing starting in the frozen north against the Edmonton Oilers. Game time: 6:00 PM PST. Radio only coverage is on tape-delayed basis starting at 7:00 PM on KTLK AM 1150 in the Los Angeles area..

Gann Matsuda, who has been writing about the Kings since 1986, is the News Editor for the Online Kingdom and covers the Kings for Hockeytalk.biz. He is also the publisher of Frozen Royalty, a blog covering the Kings.

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