Haggerty: Kings need to focus in for Game 6

681756.jpg

Haggerty: Kings need to focus in for Game 6

So the Kings have utilized the excuses and the alibis, and now openly admit there were distractions in the first two games in which they had chances to win the Stanley Cup.

Thats all well and good for a young team thats still figuring out what it takes to ultimately hoist that Cup over their heads, but even the buxom Taylor Stevens shouldnt be able to distract Los Angeles in Game 6.

This is LAs game to win, and if they dont then theyre going to be in all kinds of trouble headed back to Jersey for a potential winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night. Mike Richards has been through the Cup Finals experience before, but has never come out on the winning side. He was one of LAs better players in a Game 5 that saw many of their best players (Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown) get weighed down by a Devils defense and their own expectations.

But even Richards admitted that Kings players have done a little too much imagining about their Cup moments before actually securing that fourth win against the Devils.

"Maybe. It's something that you have to handlesomething you have to go through, said Richards, who had the last big shot that Marty Brodeur stopped during a last minute flurry in the third period of Game 5. Obviously we would have liked to have won one of the last few games, but we're in a situation where we can still be better.

We have to be better to beat their team because it seems like they're getting better, too. We just have to bring our best game in Game 6.

Several Kings players mentioned the distraction of family and friends in Los Angeles that wanted to be in attendance for Game 4 and were ready to celebrate if the Cup moment was on hand. Those are the kind of real life distractions every pro athlete faces in the big moments that most outside the dressing room dont spend much time thinking about.

We don't want any distractions. I think a lot of us before Game 4 were distracted with family members and friends, the Cup coming in the building, said Doughty. A lot of things we have to put aside.

Family always comes first for everyone, but at this point of the year, the team has to come first. We're a family in the room and on the ice. Right now we're number one in everyone's mind.

The shining beacon of hope for the Kings: They have not yet played as well as they can in the Cup Finals against the Devils. The first few games appeared to have a level of rust as Los Angeles hadnt played in eight days, and now New Jersey is once again gaining momentum as they gain familiarity with their opponent. Jonathan Quick was excellent before faltering early in Game 5, and Anze Kopitar picked his spots before Jeff Carter, Richards and Dustin Penner factored largely into the middle portion of the series.

Drew Doughty has been close to dominant throughout the series, and the Kings grit players have shown up in every game.

But the entire team hasnt been powering the bus in any of the games during the series. There have been LA passengers. For example Kopitars no show in Game 5 where he was no more than a forceless phantom on the ice.

That cant happen with 60 minutes of good hockey separating hunger from elation.

We've lost a few in a row, but we could have easily won those two games, too. The Cup is going to be in the building again for Game 6. I think that's enough motivation.

At this point of the year, you don't feel the bumps and bruisesyou don't get tired. You have so much adrenaline running through your body; you want it so bad that you just put it all aside.

With the Kings 0-2 when the Stanley Cup has been polished and ready in the building, perhaps Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi can make a call to Peggy to make sure that the Stanley Cup is a little tardy arriving to LAs barn.

None of the Kings players need to see Phil Pritchard giving it the white glove treatment headed into the third period, but they might just want if a Cup winner is crowned shortly after that.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.