Haggerty: Kings look ready for crown after Game 1 victory

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Haggerty: Kings look ready for crown after Game 1 victory

NEWARK, NJ At a certain point the Los Angeles Kings might begin to think they are a team of destiny during this years Stanley Cup playoffs.
First, they vanquished the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks and possibly severed the final few strings of cord keeping together the dysfunctional marriage between Roberto Luongo and his team. Then the Kings dominated the St. Louis Blues in a four-game sweep that saw LA outscore the NHLs best defensive team by a 15-6 margin before romping their way to the conference finals.
It was off to the Western Conference Finals, where LAs hockey royalty squashed the Phoenix Coyotes in five games and dashed the Cup dreams of Shane Doan with a good, old-fashioned helping of hard feelings at the end.
Not even seven days of gathered rust could dethrone the Kings as they withstood some of New Jerseys best punches to secure a 2-1 victory in overtime of Game 1 at the Prudential Center.
Anze Kopitars goal was the difference-maker in overtime, but the victory was truly built on confidence constructed through a compelling postseason run.
The Kings arent brazen or foolish enough to pronounce the series over after one game, but there is belief within Los Angeles room that they will pull things out in the end.
Thats the depth and the heart that we have. A team could outshoot us 30-10 and we dont care. We still want to win so badly, and were so hungry to get that goal in overtime and win the game, said Drew Doughty, who started the play that led to the overtime game-winner. The boys did a great job with that.
Los Angeles could have curled up into a ball and cried for mama in overtime when the waters got a little rough. The humid New Jersey weather wreaked havoc with their hydration levels and the ice conditions had pucks bouncing all over creation.
Marty Brodeur looked every bit the first ballot Hall of Famer that Dustin Penner deemed him after Game 1 was over while stone-walling the Kings in the second and third period.
Brodeur made 23 saves in all, but his double-stacked stop of a clean Doughty rush from the slot off a Mike Richards pass was like watching a great goaltender from a bygone era.
The Devils built momentum while enjoying the better of the chances in the extra session, and they had the crowd at The Rock ready to celebrate a New Jersey win.
But the Kings are a perfect road team in the playoffs, and a hockey club doesnt build a 9-0 postseason record away from their friendly confines by buckling under pressure. Instead, Doughty took advantage of a little chaos in the neutral zone with a textbook chip off the boards, and Justin Williams and Kopitar did the rest for the Kings.
Williams no-look backhand pass to space was the cold-blooded move of a veteran thats been through the playoff wars, and Kopitar flashed the skill thats made him a Conn Smythe candidate during these playoffs.
But the play was made through an unbending mentality.
Most hockey clubs take the personality of their captains and key leaders, and Los Angeles is no different. Dustin Browns lunatic fringe intensity sets the tone for a Kings squad that refuses to break.
Its been the same for our team all year, said Brown. Weve been really good in this postseason at handling momentum. I thought they took it to us in the second half of the game, but overtime is overtime.
There are going to be good chances for both teams. They had some good chances and we found the best chance.
When Kopitars slick double-move lured Brodeur out of position and opened things up for his game-winner around the goaltenders pads, the Kings were once again rewarded for a champions resilience.
I saw those two on the boards battling. I wanted to make sure I went through the middle. I don't know if he heard me or not, said Kopitar. I yelled for the puck. He chipped it obviously perfect, right on my tape. You know, it happened pretty quickly. I was able to finish it off.
LAs world class players ended up with the overtime game-winner, goalie Jonathan Quick allowed only one fluky second period goal that bounced off his own defenseman, and role players like Colin Fraser (goal), Jarret Stoll (nine of 10 face-off wins) and Jordan Nolan (four hits and an assist) created energy all over the ice.
Its easy to see why Los Angeles has positioned itself for their first Stanley Cup title after rising from a humble eighth seed. They utilize every player on the roster and have had 16 different players score a goal during the postseason.
From a series standpoint its huge. To put them behind us from the get-go makes it a little more difficult for them to get back in it, said Brown. If we play our game and do the right things then it makes it extremely difficult for them.
The only thing the Kings are waiting for: to get crowned with a Cup and all its spoils with three more victories that look much more winnable after stealing Game 1.

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

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Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard and fighting that hard to see pucks and find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

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Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.

Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.

“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”

It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston. 

The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.

“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”

A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.