Western Conference Semifinals
Game 3 (Kings lead series, 2-0)
Kings vs. St. Louis Blues at Staples Center, 7 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Ding, ding, ding – Anyone who watched the last two periods of Game 2 probably wondered if they were viewing playoff hockey or some sort of Wrestlemania on Ice. After the Kings took a 4-0 lead in the opening period, the game disintegrated into a series of after-the-whistle scrums. There were 14 roughing penalties, five 10-minute misconducts and, as Dustin Penner described, a rear-naked chokehold that he applied on David Perron. Will the Kings get coerced into those antics in Game 3? After all, those were the two best periods by St. Louis in this series. The Kings would be better served to avoid falling into that trap. Their penalty-kill unit has been outstanding against the Blues this season, 26-for-26 to be exact, but even that has a shelf life if left on the ice too long.
2. Pietrangelo to return – Similar to what the Canucks went through with Daniel Sedin in the first-round series, the Blues are hoping defenseman Alex Pietrangelo will provide a much-needed lift after missing Game 2 with an undisclosed injury. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after the morning skate that Pietrangelo will play in Game 3. He leads the team in ice time, is a rock on the special teams and might just be the best player for St. Louis. Of course, Sedin meant just as much to the Canucks, but he wasn’t able to accomplish anything more than keeping Vancouver from getting swept.
3. On your marks – You can almost bank on the Blues treating the first period like a 100-meter dash, similar to what they displayed in Game 1 (and the opposite of how they played in Game 2). St. Louis is a desperate hockey team and they can’t afford to give L.A. another inch. The Kings scored 31 seconds into Game 2 and never looked back. L.A. shouldn’t be surprised by what they see in the first period, but how they react could go a long way toward determining the result. Jonathan Quick bailed them out with several spectacular saves early in Game 1, but the Kings would probably rather counter the Blues with some speed and tenacity of their own. Either way, don’t expect the score to get one-sided early on for a second straight game.
4. Better than nothing – He didn’t give the universal A-OK symbol when asked about his ankle following Game 2, but Jeff Carter at less than 100 percent is still better than most NHL forwards. He missed the final five games of the regular season with a deep bone bruise and wasn’t much of a factor in the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. Carter scored his first playoff goal in 10 games in Game 2, however, a patented wrist shot that hit the net before most even saw it leave his blade. With linemates Mike Richards and Penner playing at a high level, a productive Carter will make things even tougher on the Blues, who are finding it difficult to match up against the Kings top two lines.
5. Clifford getting close – Out since Game 1 of the Vancouver series after an illegal hit by a vagabond forward, Kings fourth-liner Kyle Clifford is getting close to returning from a concussion. Kings coach Darryl Sutter will face a tough decision if that time comes tonight. Brad Richardson has stepped in nicely for Clifford, scoring the third-period tying goal in the series-clinching overtime victory against the Canucks. The fourth line has also been playing as well as any of the forward trios, and breaking up that combination now would be a gamble. Look for Clifford to remain out until the Kings clinch the series, or another forward gives Sutter a good reason to replace him in the lineup.