When it was announced that Anze Kopitar would miss the rest of the regular season and the playoffs after sustaining a broken ankle with only a handful of games left in the regular season, a collective sigh went out through the Los Angeles Kings’ organization.
The Kings are a team that has fought diligently to build a winner. They lost out on Dany Heatley two years ago. They lost the Ilya Kovalchuck sweepstakes last summer. Still, the Kings persevere and grow stronger each passing year with the core group of talent that they have. And then Kopitar, the team’s leading scorer, goes down on a seemingly harmless play. But the Kings aren’t lamenting the loss. In fact, they are calling on unlikely heroes to step up and take Kopitar’s place and show why the team, as a whole, belongs in the postseason.
Defense has been key in this series so far for the Kings. The team’s defense has thus far managed to stymie San Jose’s top scorers while providing offense of their own. Drew Doughty has been stellar on the blue line for the Kings. In only his third full NHL season, the 21-year-old defenseman has gobbled up ice time by averaging over 27 minutes a night in two postseason games. He also leads the team in points with two goals and two assists against the Sharks. Fellow defenseman Jack Johnson is also helping to carry the load with a goal and an assist in the first two games of the opening round while averaging around 22 minutes of ice time each night.
Justin Williams has been a pleasant surprise for the Kings this year. After several injury-plagued seasons, Williams managed to stay relatively healthy this year playing in 73 games. More importantly, Williams showed his offensive upside by chipping in 57 points during the regular season. In the playoffs, Williams already has a goal and an assist, but he has also fired off a team-leading seven shots on goal while averaging just less than 20 minutes of ice time a night. Williams is a key asset to the offense and his play will help determine the course of this series.
Perhaps the most vital component for the Kings this offseason, however, is goaltender Jonathan Quick. In two playoff games, Quick has one shutout and leads all postseason goaltenders with a .962 save percentage. A goalie has the ability to make or break a series in some cases and Quick will need to deliver a great performance every night if Los Angeles intends to upset the Sharks.
Kopitar’s injury was a brutal blow to the Kings, but they have managed to stay incredibly competitive without their leading scorer. The Kings took a close overtime loss to the Sharks in Game 1 of the series and responded with a 4-0 shutout in Game 2. With Game 3 on the docket tonight, a victory at home could swing a huge amount of momentum toward the Kings and potentially move them from postseason pushover to Western Conference underdog.