Kings climbing into role of favourites

Kings forward Anze Kopitar during practice in Glendale, Ariz., May 14, 2012. (TODD KOROL/Reuters)

Kings forward Anze Kopitar during practice in Glendale, Ariz., May 14, 2012. (TODD KOROL/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:55 PM ET

GLENDALE, ARIZ. - The Los Angeles Kings might very well be the favourites now to win the Stanley Cup this spring.

They went into Game 2 Tuesday night of the Western Conference final against the Phoenix Coyotes looking to continue the tremendous momentum they've built through these playoffs.

No matter the outcome, the Kings were guaranteed of going back to Los Angeles with no worse than a split in Arizona and home-ice advantage going into Game 3 Thursday and Game 4 Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.

It has been a remarkable climb for the Kings with so many different things happening to the club over the course of the season: The firing of coach Terry Murray and the hiring of Darryl Sutter; injuries; the trade of defenceman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jeff Carter; squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed despite having the 29th-ranked offence in the NHL.

The Kings finally got things sorted out down the stretch and players ended up in the right roles. Depth became a strong point.

Sutter has the confidence to use his fourth line, for instance, for seven to 10 minutes a game. Youngster Dwight King, 22, played almost 10 minutes and chipped in a pair of goals in the Kings' 4-2 win in Game 1 over the Coyotes.

Jordan Nolan, the 22-year-old son of former NHL coach Ted Nolan, and centre Colin Fraser each played about eight minutes.

King and Nolan, who were called up on the same day in February when the Kings had run into injuries, have become a part of the positive mix that evolved over the final 25 games or so of the regular season.

Kings centre Anze Kopitar was asked to assess how the pair has fit into the dressing room.

"Well, obviously really well," Kopitar said. "They got called up in a pretty tough spot where we weren't scoring goals. I think the first game they played, they were playing with Mike (Richards) on the second line. It's not the easiest thing to do, just to come in and be depended on for a lot of minutes, try to score goals. I think things settled down for us and they've been playing great for us."

King and Nolan have been almost inseparable. They were housemates when they were playing with the AHL farm team in Manchester, N.H., and now they share the same digs in Los Angeles.

King attracted some attention in the dressing room after his two-goal effort and was asked about his relationship with Nolan. He said it has helped to have had somebody going through the same experience.

"Definitely," said King, whose older brother, D.J., is in the Washington Capitals organization. "You have someone to talk to, someone to relate to. We're both going through it for the first time and it's obviously exciting. To be there with someone you know really well, it's great.''

Having players such as King and Nolan emerge to play effective roles is a key for a long playoff run.

There's a lot to like about the Kings, but one area that can be improved during the playoffs is the power play. The Kings had just four goals in 51 attempts with the man-advantage going into Game 2 Tuesday night and just one in their past eight games.

Kings forward Justin Williams said he was surprised the power play hasn't been more successful.

"You should obviously try every game to be a plus on the special teams against the other team," Williams said. "Our penalty kill obviously has been pretty good. I thought our power play (has given) us some decent chances, decent looks. Hopefully when we get that going, we'll get a lot better."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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