Sports Hockey


Home-ice advantage has been huge in Kings-Sharks series


Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save on San Jose Sharks centre Logan Couture during Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference semifinal in San Jose, May 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save on San Jose Sharks centre Logan Couture during Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference semifinal in San Jose, May 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)



Looking back, it was a big win.

At least, it could turn out to be.

The Los Angeles Kings gutted out a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in their April 27 regular-season finale at Staples Center, climbing above their state rivals in the standings and securing fifth spot in the Western Conference.

Now that they’re locked in a spirited best-of-seven series with the sixth-seeded Sharks, and especially now that the home team has won the first four games of this second-round set, home-ice advantage suddenly seems like a huge deal.

“We won the last game of the regular season for a reason,” said Kings centre Anze Kopitar. “We’ve gotta make it count.”

Despite suffering back-to-back losses at HP Pavilion, the Kings still hold the hammer as the series shifts back to Staples Center for Thursday’s Game 5.

It’s worth noting that Kopitar & Co. haven’t been beaten at their own rink for two months. That’s a stretch of a dozen consecutive victories dating back to March 23, including five in the playoffs and that regular-season capper against the Sharks.

“You don’t have time not to be confident right now,” said Kings defenceman Matt Greene, whose return from injury is another reason for optimism.

“It’s a three-game series, and we’ve gotta get after it on home ice.”

The Kings remain a confident crew — they are, after all, the defending Stanley Cup champs — but they’re certainly not rolling the way they did one year ago.

Part of the problem is that their so-called top line has been stuck somewhere between mediocre and MIA against the Sharks.

Captain Dustin Brown buried the tying goal in the second game of the series, helping to spark L.A.’s late comeback, but the relentless winger has otherwise been an offensive non-factor.

Kopitar notched his first point of the series — an assist — on Mike Richards’ power-play tally in Game 4, while Justin Williams has been blanked so far.

After Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in San Jose, Kings coach Darryl Sutter called out his stars, telling reporters “our role players kept us in the game. They have for the last three games.”

When the Kings hit the ice for Wednesday’s skate in El Segundo, Calif, the role players were spread across the lines.

Kyle Clifford, who returned from injury in Game 4, was working with Kopitar and Williams, while Brown skated with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King. Dustin Penner joined the dynamic duo of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, L.A.’s leading point-producers during this playoff run.

In this social-media age, it didn’t take long for word of the new-look line combos to reach the Silicon Valley, where the Sharks had a team meeting at their own facility before boarding an afternoon flight to L.A.

“We’ve done that in practice before, too. We’ve experimented with lines,” shrugged Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “They get last change. They get to determine who they’re going to play and against who. They’ll play them as they see fit, and we’ll have to react.”

That’s another advantage of being at home.

The Kings can thank their final regular-season victory for that.

“It’s a hard grind getting 16 wins throughout a post-season, but the trick is to make sure you have the same hunger that drove you last year,” Williams said after Wednesday’s workout. “That next Stanley Cup should be your favourite one. That’s what we’re finding here, that’s what we’re looking for.

“And there are teams in our way. We’re still in a good spot.”

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson

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