Toews-Kopitar matchup is key in Western Conference Final

Toews-Kopitar matchup is key in Western Conference Final
May 20, 2014, 4:45 pm
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Nina Falcone

Darryl Sutter has sung his praises for Jonathan Toews in the past, and on Tuesday afternoon he took his admiration for the Chicago Blackhawks captain up an octave.

The Los Angeles Kings head coach met with the media inside the United Center, and Sutter was asked why Toews' line was so successful against the Kings' top line in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

"They're a great line. Jonathan Toews, he is the best two-way player in the National Hockey League," he said. "Hossa is right there next in terms of wingers. That's for sure." 

Those are some strong words coming from the guy who coaches Anze Kopitar, also one of the best two-way players in the league. 

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Kopitar has given the Kings a big year, tallying 70 points in 82 games throughout the regular season and 19 points in 15 games in the playoffs. Not to mention he logged the second-most minutes of any forward this season — averaging 20:53 per game — just under Sidney Crosby. 

"Toews is one of the best two-way centermen, and I think Kopy is as well," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Those are the staples of the game, and then they differ in certain areas. How they play. But they're both very effective in how they play and that matchup will be key all series."

There's no doubt that both players deserve plenty of consideration in the Selke conversation as two of the league's top defensive forwards. Kopitar has earned his first nomination for the award this season while Toews is the reigning winner and has earned three nominations over the last four seasons.

But on Sunday's Kopitar's line wasn't able to do much against Toews'. The Kings believe that in order to tie things up before heading back to Staples Center for Games 3 and 4, they'll have to find ways to get past No. 19.

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"Offensively, he’s obviously a really good player. I think he has more heart than a lot of players and that’s what separates him from other players," Drew Doughty said. "Skill-wise, he’s got it all. I think where I really struggle when I play against him, or where I really have to be aware of him, is on the defensive end — when he’s forechecking me. In the neutral zone, if he’s trying to forecheck me there, I can’t really be making passes by him, he’s going to be knocking those down.

"He’s good with his stick. Then in the corners, on the forecheck, he’s good — making turnovers and taking them to the net. I think that’s really where he’s tough to play against — when he’s on the defensive end and I have the puck."

Both Toews and Kopitar have their similarities and differences as far as their style of play goes. But one thing's certain: their matchup will be a key component throughout the remainder of the series.

"It's fun to watch," Doughty said. "If we want to win this series, Kopy's going to have to win that battle."