MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings’ top line of Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown was a much-ballyhooed one entering the Western Conference Final, and for good reason.
The trio was leading the way through the first two rounds, the trade-deadline acquisition of Gaborik providing a jolt to the Kings’ offensive woes. The Chicago Blackhawks wanted to make a concerted effort to stop that line, and they have. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, another line has taken over for the Kings.
Jeff Carter and linemates Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli have been making life miserable for the Blackhawks. Carter has been especially tormenting, scoring four goals in the past two games. Stopping them hasn’t been easy.
“They both have a lot of speed, they’re skilled players. Pearson’s got speed as well,” Duncan Keith said. “They skate hard, they play hard and they both have good shots. Put all those three together, they’re going to be hard to play against.”
They have made life difficult for the Blackhawks, starting in the third period of Game 2 when Jeff Carter had a hat trick. He was at it again on Saturday night, scoring his eighth goal of the playoffs after a Blackhawks’ clearing attempt went off an official and stayed in the zone. Toffoli added a dagger later, splitting the Blackhawks’ defense to score his sixth of the postseason.
Carter, the “old man” of the trio at 29 — Toffoli and Pearson are 22 and 21, respectively — said he’s enjoyed playing with the “kids.”
“Kind of dragging me along with them, so it's been good,” Carter said following the game. “Obviously they have a lot of chemistry from playing together in Manchester. They're working and they're having fun. They use their speed and their skill to create opportunities.”
Pearson said he and Toffoli look to Carter for the right advice, especially at this time of the year.
“Late in the game, just trying to get the pucks out and that kind of thing,” he said. “We don’t want to force too many plays and make that 100-percent play because there’s a lot at stake here and we don’t want a play to cost us and get in the back of our net.”
The Blackhawks’ biggest task entering this series was to stop the Kings’ top line. They’ve done that. Now they’ve got the Kings’ second line with which to contend.
“They’ve got great speed, they’ve got great skill and they’re strong on the puck,” Michal Handzus said. “They made plays today and they capitalized and they scored.”