OTTAWA, Ontario -- Having been part of two teams that have erased 3-0 series deficits in the past five seasons, Mike Richards should start giving seminars on the art of the incredible comeback.
"Maybe I’ll write a book when I’m done here," Richards said, chuckling when reached by ESPN.com this week.
The veteran Los Angeles Kings center knew, of course, why we were calling: the Ottawa Senators are down 3-0 in their series and facing elimination against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 at Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday night.
Tell us, Professor Richards, given the knowledge you have gained from being part of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers rallying back from down 3-0 to beat the Boston Bruins, and, of course, last spring’s eventual Cup-champion Kings doing the same to the San Jose Sharks, what’s the secret to it all?
"Both times, I thought, for the most part, if not for a bounce or two either way, the series could have been 2-1, up or down," Richards said.
Which by the way, as Richards himself pointed out, that is probably how the Senators feel, as they have lost three one-goal games to the Habs, two of them in overtime.
"Obviously, the first one is the biggest one, just to get a win under your belt," continued Richards. "It starts at home, and then Game 5 is big too, in their building, they’re going to have a big push. It’s about getting confidence back into the group. When you win a game, you suddenly build your confidence. And as the series goes on, if it does continue, you just start playing better."
If the Senators can get to a Game 5 in Montreal, it’s funny how the pressure suddenly can shift midway through that game if the home team hasn’t put its foot on the other team’s throat. Both Boston and San Jose realized at some point in their Game 5s that they had a series on their hands.
"I’ve watched a bit of the Ottawa games," said Richards. "As well as Montreal has played, I think in a lot of parts of the game the other night [Game 3], Ottawa outplayed them too. They’ve had a great run for the last two months. Maybe they don’t have as much confidence now being down 3-0 -- that’s the biggest thing, getting that back in the dressing room."
What the Senators have that many other teams in their position don’t, Richards said, is the 21-3-3 run they went on to close out the regular season and make the playoffs against all odds. Against all odds.
"For Ottawa, they went on quite the run to end the regular season, so that shouldn’t seem like too much of a battle winning four games," said Richards. "Four in a row shouldn’t seem as steep to them as it does to most other teams. Their run was pretty incredible at the end of the year."
But, Richards stressed, the players in that dressing room must have the right attitude about it all. It’s not every team that’s down 3-0 that truly, truly believes it can come back. Or are willing to do what it takes to do it.
"So much of it is confidence. If you believe you can do it, there’s a chance," Richards said. "If everyone in there is planning to go home, there’s not much of one. It’s about the mindset in the dressing room."
Do these Senators truly believe?
"When you’re in a game like this, you feel you can win them all. I’m excited. I still feel we have a chance," said Senators rookie winger Mark Stone.
Stone says he’s been in 3-0 series before, in junior hockey.
"It’s a little different in junior, though," said Stone. "Young kids kind of throw in the towel in junior. I know we’re not throwing in the towel."
As Richards said, just win Game 4 and see where it brings you.
"It’s doable," said Senators winger Clarke MacArthur. "Obviously, a huge uphill climb, but it doesn’t feel like a 3-0 series. A couple of those games, the first game we kind of gave away. We just need to find a way to get one. If we get one, we put a little doubt into them, give yourself a chance to go to Montreal and make something happen there."
The odds, even with the 2010 and 2013 comebacks by Richards’ Flyers and Kings, are mind-crushingly bad.
But there is no need to look at those odds if you’re Ottawa.
"You try not to read into it," said Senators defenseman Marc Methot. "Was it L.A. last year that came down from 3-0 in a series? You’ve got to know that you are ultimately in control of your own destiny when it comes to playing games. You’re going to give yourself the best opportunity if you are prepared to play and you want to win the game. We just look at it as one game and work your way up from there."
We've been waiting all season for the defending Stanley Cup champions to once and for all announce their intentions.
For better or for worse, those intentions will be made crystal clear by the end of this week.
The Los Angeles Kings control their destiny, sitting in a wild-card spot by the thinnest of margins as they get set for their final four games of the regular season. These games include a pair of head-to-head matchups that should prove pivotal toward figuring out the Western Conference playoff picture.
It begins Monday night with a huge one in Vancouver, as the Canucks sit three points ahead of the Kings in the No. 2 spot in the Pacific Division.
"Everything is right in front of us: there's four games left and we've got Vancouver and Calgary among those games," veteran Kings center Jarret Stoll told ESPN.com Monday morning from Vancouver. "You obviously can't look ahead, this is a huge game tonight in Vancouver to start us off. We've played well here before, we've got the confidence to win a game here tonight. We've just got to play the right way, play our way."
The Kings spanked the Canucks 4-0 on March 12 in Vancouver, limiting the host team to 19 shots. But the Canucks returned the favor March 21 at Staples Center with a 4-1 win in which they launched 42 shots at the Kings.
The Kings lead the season series 3-1-0, including another win in Vancouver, 3-2 on Jan. 1.
So there's comfort in playing in Vancouver, and certainly Monday night presents the chance for the Kings to not only to improve their playoff chances, but also to perhaps send a message in what potentially could be a first-round playoff matchup.
"If that does happen, and we definitely hope it does because it means we're in, but, yeah, you just get that confidence and that little swagger against these guys if you win tonight," Stoll said. "Not that long ago, we came in here and played a pretty impressive game and beat them here. Hopefully, we can do that again and just play well in this building, that gives you confidence, hopefully, the next time out there.
"It's going to be a great matchup tonight," added Stoll, a tinge of excitement in his voice. "I think you will be able to tell from the first five minutes of the game [that] it's going to be ramped up, it's going to be playoff-style hockey. Both teams are going to be pushing pretty hard."
The Kings are tied with the Winnipeg Jets at 92 points to begin the final week, but own the regulation and overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker. The Flames are just a point ahead of the Kings for the No. 3 slot in the Pacific Division, and the Flames host the Kings Thursday night. The Jets and Flames tangle to wrap the season Saturday night.
The Kings also play Tuesday at Edmonton and wrap things up Saturday afternoon at home against the rival San Jose Sharks.
So a lot can happen here over the next six days.
What's encouraging for the Kings is they're coming off impressive back-to-back victories, an 8-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers and a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, in which they limited the Avalanche to just 10 shots (tying a Kings franchise record for lowest shot total by an opponent).
Stoll believes the Kings' vaunted defensive game, such a staple of the 2012 and 2014 Cup victories, is coming into form.
"I think it is, it's just tightening everything up. We try to do things as a group of five, as a group of six in our own zone, we talk about that so much," said Stoll. "Our game starts below the goal line and being heavy, hard and physical and winning those puck battles; getting that puck possession and then going up the ice together. When we're spread out and our timing is not right, we're giving teams too much time and space. That means we're in our zone too much and giving up shots. Giving up 10 shots, 15 shots, 20 shots, that means you're not spending too much time in your own zone, and that's a good thing."
Despite their up-and-down season, the Kings remain a terrific puck-possession team, which is why if they can get in, a lot of people will like their chances again to go deep.
"Puck possession is pretty important with our team, it starts with faceoffs; it starts with battling down low and getting that puck and hanging on to it," said Stoll. "Hopefully, it's coming together and we can be consistent with that."
Same old Kings, meanwhile, making their fans sweat it out to the end. Last season, the Kings finished third in the Pacific, which meant not having home-ice advantage for the opening three rounds of the playoffs. No problem, as they won three consecutive seven-game series en route to a Cup. And, of course, in 2012, they got into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth as the No. 8 seed en route to their first Cup.
So this year’s script is just par for the course. Not that the Kings planned it that way.
"It's definitely not something we wanted to keep doing here," said Stoll. "But we hear it all the time from people, fans of ours, neighbors, they all say, 'You guys are so stressful to watch.' Well, yeah, it's stressful for us to play sometimes the way we do things. But you know what, getting in is getting in. I'm sure everybody is going to say that now but everybody is so good, the league is so good, that if you're an eighth seed or a wild-card team, you're playing a first or second seed in the conference, they are great matchups now. There aren't many upsets now, it's just good hockey.
"I think everybody has realized that. Once you get into the playoffs, you can win a round, you can be a Stanley Cup champion, it's that good of a league."
First things first for the Kings -- getting in.
QUICK, SEDIN AND PACIORETTY NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (Feb. 23, 2015) – Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin and Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Feb. 22.
FIRST STAR – JONATHAN QUICK, G, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Quick went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and .959 save percentage to backstop the Kings (28-18-12, 68 points) to three consecutive victories, including a 2-1 triumph over the rival San Jose Sharks in the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. He opened the week with 21 saves in a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Feb. 16. Quick then recorded 42 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Feb. 18. He capped his performance with 31 saves during the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series Feb. 21, becoming the first goaltender in Kings history to reach the 200-win milestone. Quick also extended his – and the team’s – winning streak to seven games (1.86 GAA, .934 SV%). It marks the third time in his career that Quick has posted at least seven consecutive victories, also: Jan. 21 – Feb. 6, 2010 (9-0-0) and Oct. 23 – Nov. 13, 2010 (7-0-0). The 29-year-old Milford, Conn., native has appeared in 50 games this season, compiling a 24-15-10 record with a 2.43 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and three shutouts.
SECOND STAR – HENRIK SEDIN, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Sedin registered four consecutive multi-point games and shared the League lead with eight points as the Canucks (34-22-3, 71 points) won three of four starts. He posted 1-1—2 in a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild Feb. 16. Sedin then scored twice, including the tying marker with 2:00 remaining in regulation, in a 5-4 shootout triumph against the New York Rangers Feb. 19. He closed the week with a pair of two-assist performances: in a 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils Feb. 20 and in a 4-0 win over the New York Islanders Feb. 22. Sedin became the first Canucks player to notch four straight multi-point performances since Mikael Samuelsson Feb. 1-7, 2011 (4-5—9). Sedin also has accomplished that feat two previous times: Dec. 2-12, 2009 (0-13—13 in 6 GP) and Dec. 31, 2009 – Jan. 7, 2010 (2-8—10 in 4 GP). The 34-year-old Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, native shares third in the NHL with 42 assists this season and paces the Canucks with 54 points in 59 games, four more than his total in 2013-14 (70 GP).
THIRD STAR – MAX PACIORETTY, LW, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Pacioretty shared first in the NHL with four goals and a +6 rating to lead the Canadiens (38-16-5, 81 points) to five out of eight possible standings points. He tallied 1-1—2 in a 2-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings Feb. 16. Pacioretty then registered one point in each of his next two games, finding the back of the net in a 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators Feb. 18 and picking up one assist (and scoring in the shootout) in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers Feb. 19. He capped the week with a pair of goals, including the game-winning marker, in a 3-1 triumph over the Columbus Blue Jackets Feb. 21. The 26-year-old New Canaan, Conn., native leads the Canadiens and shares sixth in the NHL with 29 goals in 59 games this season. He also paces the League with a +33 rating, while his seven decisive markers are one off first place.
KOPITAR, VORACEK AND FLEURY NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (Dec. 22, 2014) – Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek and Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Dec. 21.
FIRST STAR – ANZE KOPITAR, C, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Kopitar led the NHL with nine points and eight assists in three games, helping the Kings (17-11-6, 40 points) win two of three starts to maintain a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. He opened the week by collecting one assist in a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues Dec. 16. Kopitar then set a career high with five points and matched a career high with four assists in a 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Blues in the second half of their home-and-home set Dec. 18. He capped the week by posting three helpers, his sixth multi-point performance of the season, in a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes Dec. 20. The 27-year-old Jesenice, Slovenia, native has recorded consecutive three-point games for the first time since October 2009, when he had two such stretches. The 11th overall selection by the Kings in the 2005 NHL Draft, Kopitar ranks third on the club with 7-15—22 in 31 outings this season.
SECOND STAR – JAKUB VORACEK, RW, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Voracek tied for second among all players with seven points (3-4—7) in four games to power the Flyers (13-14-6, 32 points) to five out of a possible eight standings points and vault into the top spot in NHL scoring. After being held off the scoresheet in a 3-1 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning Dec. 16, Voracek potted his 12th goal of the season – and also found the back of the net in the shootout – in a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers Dec. 18. He then led the Flyers to a pair of weekend wins, matching a career high with four assists/points in a 7-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Dec. 20 and recording two goals, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 triumph against the Winnipeg Jets Dec. 21. The 25-year-old Kladno, Czech Republic, native has found the scoresheet in 26 of 33 games this season, leading the NHL with 44 points and 30 assists (tied with teammate Claude Giroux).
THIRD STAR – MARC-ANDRE FLEURY, G, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Fleury went 3-0-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average, .971 save percentage and one shutout to help the Penguins (22-6-4, 48 points) record a trio of victories and maintain the top spot in the Eastern Conference. He posted 28 saves in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Dec. 15. Fleury then denied all 29 shots he faced to earn his League-leading sixth shutout of the season in a 1-0 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche Dec. 18. With his performance, Fleury established a career high for shutouts in one campaign (in 24 GP), surpassing his previous mark of five set in 2006-07 (67 GP) and equaled in 2013-14 (64 GP). He closed the week with 45 saves, his highest single-game total since Dec. 23, 2009, in a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers Dec. 20. The 30-year-old Sorel, Que., native ranks second in the NHL with 19 wins in 25 appearances this season and also places in the top five in save percentage (4th; .933) and goals-against average (5th; 1.97).
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said Sunday that his players were all vaccinated about "2-3 weeks ago."
Not that his players seemed particularly worried about it, even after the news that the game's top player, Sidney Crosby, was diagnosed with it on Sunday.
"I don't even think about it, to be honest," superstar Kings blue-liner Drew Doughty said after Sunday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs. "I'm not too worried about it. If I get it, I get it. I hope I don't. I hope no one on our team does, but there's really nothing we can do. We have sanitizers all over the rink and all over the plan and stuff like that. We’re trying not to get it, obviously."
While the Kings were given the shot, the Maple Leafs say they gave their players the option of getting the vaccine shot, although it appears most players did it.
"Well, I just got my shot today," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said Sunday. "They dragged me in, I was the last one. I thought that I had [been vaccinated] 58 years ago, so I didn't think I'd need another one, but I guess there's a new strain out that they better look after us."
The NHL and NHL Players' Association have been closely monitoring the situation.
"We have been in touch with our clubs through our infectious disease committee and circulated information on how best to minimize the outbreak," deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com via email Sunday. "Most if not all of our clubs have now vaccinated all of their players, regardless of whether they were vaccinated in their youth."
The problem, Daly added, is that the mumps are highly contagious, and the period from contraction to the onset of symptoms is unusually long. That allows players to pass it along before they know they have it, Daly said.
"The NHLPA has been actively educating the players regarding the recent outbreak, while providing best practices on how to avoid contracting and spreading mumps," NHLPA senior spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Sunday.
Each season at training camp, players are asked about their vaccine histories annually by team physicians, and players are encouraged to bring copies of their immunization records with them, according to another source.
Better bet that players will be on this next season at camp.
Nine days ago, the defending Stanley Cup champs dispatched the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 to finish a six-game homestand with an unblemished 6-0-0 record. Goaltender Jonathan Quick was sensational. The trio of Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli emerged as the hottest line in hockey. Not even the headlines surrounding defenseman Slava Voynov's indefinite suspension after his arrest on domestic violence charges seemed to deter the club's focus.
The Kings have dropped the first four games of a five-game road trip. They have looked nothing like the world-beaters of just a few weeks ago. They have been undisciplined. They have chased the play. They have been outshot in the first period of their past four losses by a margin of 51-38. Though the Kings were one of the best puck-possession teams in the league last season, they now find themselves in the middle of the pack, controlling only 50.8 percent of shot attempts at even strength (compared to last season, when they ranked first with 56.8 percent, according to www.hockeyanalysis.com).
The Kings sit in fifth place in the Pacific Division, two points behind the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks, and six points behind the first-place Anaheim Ducks.
Their most recent defeat came at the hands of the lowly Carolina Hurricanes, a 3-2 loss to the worst team in the NHL, which sends them sputtering into their final stop of the trip to face the Dallas Stars, one of the most dynamic offensive squads in the league.
"We have not been sharp. We haven't moved the puck well. We haven't supported each other," Kings center Jarret Stoll told ESPN.com this weekend after the loss to Detroit. "It's very obvious."
That much was true to anyone who saw the squad coming unhinged in Detroit on Halloween night, when the Red Wings jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Granted, it was the Kings' third game in four nights, but the team did not look good.
"They look dead," one scout remarked.
The club recovered after an abysmal first period to pull within two goals -- if he had scored on his penalty shot, Dustin Brown would've made it a one-goal game -- but the damage was essentially done.
Coach Darryl Sutter said he wasn't concerned. In fact, he sounded like this was something he might have foreseen, what with all the challenges facing his team.
"I mean, quite honestly, we've played some guys more than they've had to, some guys less than we've had to. It's all part and parcel with what's going on with our team right now," Sutter said after Friday's loss. "It's not a very consistent lineup and it's hurt us. It's cost us games."
To be fair, the Kings have not iced a full lineup. Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar have missed time with injuries, though both players returned Sunday. The team is still without Voynov, who remains suspended with a criminal investigation ongoing. And the cap implications of that suspension have had adverse consequences for the team. When Kopitar went down, the Kings were unable to call up a replacement for their first game of the road trip, forcing them to play shorthanded against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The "That '70s Line" of Pearson, Carter and Toffoli has cooled off, with the trio combining for a mere two points over the past four games.
In pre-scouting the Kings this week, Stars coach Lindy Ruff noted the impact of such a drought.
"It's the same with our team because of our top line," Ruff told ESPN.com. "When you rely pretty heavily on one line to get it done and they don't get it done, you get in a little bit of a jam."
With Quick coming back to earth after an outstanding start, all these aforementioned issues have been exposed. Quick has given up 10 goals in his past three games. Not terrible, but not the type of showing that is going to camouflage things, either.
"Jonathan Quick obviously stole some games for us. We had some phenomenal goaltending and we rode that hot streak," said Mike Futa, vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel for the Kings. "Every team knows when the defending Stanley Cup champions are coming. There's no sympathy for who is missing from our lineup. There's no sympathy for what's going on with our [defense] with the Slava suspension."
And though the league is open to providing the Kings some sort of temporary cap relief with the nebulous nature of Voynov's suspension, there are also escrow issues that complicate matters from the NHLPA's side of the aisle.
Last week, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi vented his frustrations about the matter, telling the Los Angeles Times the club was mired in a game of "political football."
According to a spokesperson from the Redondo Beach Police Department, there could be a determination made about the charges Voynov could face this week.
But, as Futa pointed out, there will be no sympathy for the Kings, regardless of the situation.
After all, everyone has seen how they have reacted to adversity in years past. To underestimate their ability to respond to difficult times is a death wish.
Just ask the San Jose Sharks.
"It's a long year. We've faced adversity in the past and it's pretty much the same group in here," veteran defenseman Matt Greene told ESPN.com. "We're confident we can get it together."
KINGS’ PEARSON NAMED NHL ROOKIE OF THE MONTH FOR OCTOBER
NEW YORK (Nov. 3, 2014) – Los Angeles Kings left wing Tanner Pearson, who led all rookies with seven goals and nine points in 11 games, has been named the NHL Rookie of the Month for October.
Pearson edged Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (2-6—8 in nine games), Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg (1-7—8 in 10 games) and New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson (4-3—7 in 10 games) for the honor.
Pearson, the 30th overall selection by the Kings in the 2012 NHL Draft, scored the team’s first goal of the season Oct. 11 against the Arizona Coyotes. He followed that up with consecutive multi-point performances: 1-1—2 Oct. 12 against the Winnipeg Jets and 2-1—3 Oct. 14 against the Edmonton Oilers, setting career highs for goals and points in one game. Pearson then capped the month with his second career multi-goal game Oct. 26 against the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-0—2).
Pearson, a 22-year-old native of Kitchener, Ont., made his NHL debut Nov. 14, 2013, against the New York Islanders, scoring a goal in his first career game. Playing alongside Tyler Toffoli (6-8—14) and Jeff Carter (5-7—12), the trio known as “That ’70s Line” combined for 35 points in 11 October games, including 18 of the team’s 25 regulation/overtime
CARTER, SCRIVENS AND NIELSEN NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (Oct. 27, 2014) – Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter, Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens and New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Oct. 26.
FIRST STAR – JEFF CARTER, C, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Carter tied for the League lead with six points (2-4—6) in two outings to help the Kings (6-1-1, 13 points) complete a perfect six-game homestand for the first time in franchise history. He opened the week with 1-1—2, including his 54th career game-winning goal, in a 2-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Oct. 23. Carter then set a career high with three assists and matched a career high with four points in a 5-2 triumph over his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Oct. 26. The 29-year-old London, Ont., native has compiled 5-7—12 and a +12 rating in eight games this season, including an even or plus rating in each contest. Playing alongside Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, the trio known as “That ’70s Line” has combined for 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals (excluding shootout tallies) and a +32 rating in 2014-15.
SECOND STAR – BEN SCRIVENS, G, EDMONTON OILERS
Scrivens posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.33 goals-against average and .920 save percentage to lead the Oilers (3-4-1, 7 points) to their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 26-29. He made 22 saves in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning Oct. 20, a season-high 32 saves in a 3-2 triumph over the Washington Capitals Oct. 22 and 27 saves in a 6-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Oct. 24. The 28-year-old Spruce Grove, Alta., native is 3-3-0 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .882 save percentage in seven appearances this season. This marks the second time in Scrivens’ 79-game NHL career that he has posted a personal winning streak of at least three games; he won a career-high four consecutive games from Nov. 14-19, 2013, while with the Los Angeles Kings.
THIRD STAR – FRANS NIELSEN, C, NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Nielsen tied for the League lead with four goals in three games to power the Islanders (6-2-0, 12 points) to a pair of victories, helping the team match its best eight-game start in the last 31 years (2001-02: 6-0-1-1). He collected one assist in a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Oct. 21 and then chipped in his first goal of the season in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins Oct. 23. With the game tied 4-4 after 40 minutes, Nielsen scored three third-period goals – including the game-winner – to record his first career hat trick and lift the Islanders to a 7-5 triumph over the Dallas Stars Oct. 25. The 30-year-old Herning, Denmark, native has 4-4—8 in eight games this season; he posted a career-high 25 goals, 33 assists and 58 points in 2013-14.
Faced with the possibility of his contract being bought out by the Stanley Cup champions, the 29-year-old Richards vowed to Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi in June that he would be more committed to his workouts this summer to help bring back the Mike Richards of old. He would commit himself to trying to bring back the player whom Lombardi traded for in the summer of 2011, the one who helped transform the Kings from pretenders into winners.
"This summer, I put in the work," Richards told ESPN.com over the phone Monday. "Of course, injuries can happen, but at least going into the season right now, I feel good and I’ve skated a lot more than I have in the past. I feel prepared, and I’m excited for the year."
As Richards pointed out, it's hard to know exactly how that translates to his on-ice performance once the season starts, but he says he feels much better at this point than he did a year ago.
Just in case, Lombardi did drop in on Richards in mid-August in the player’s hometown of Kenora, Ontario. Now, you can look up Kenora on Google Maps, but getting to that northern Ontario town is not exactly a swift trip.
"He came up to Kenora; he was there for about five hours, I think. It’s not exactly the easiest place to get into," chuckled Richards.
"He flew the night before to Winnipeg, drove up to Kenora, we woke up, worked out, and then he left. It was a pretty quick trip for him."
You can’t blame the Kings GM for wanting to see for himself.
A year ago, Richards wasn't in good enough shape coming into camp, and he was chasing the rest of the season, to the point where he became a fourth-line center late in the season and in the playoffs.
It’s why there was so much angst for Lombardi, who adores Richards, as he knew that this was the final window in the new CBA to buy out a player without it counting against a team’s salary cap.
Richards has six years left on his deal, counting $5.75 million against the cap. No small decision.
"After the season, we sat down, actually had two meetings, lengthy meetings, really just to talk about everything," recalled Richards. "We talked about how I played, what I wanted to do, and what he wanted me to get back to. We laid it all out on the table. Obviously he likes me as a player and wants me to be part of the team, and I want to be there, too. He more or less just told me I had to get back to what I was doing a few years ago when I was having success, rather than the past couple of seasons, especially last year when I didn’t play the way I wanted to other than the ending."
The ending saw Richards play his best hockey of the season as the Kings won another Cup, yet mostly as a fourth-line center. Sure, he still got some power-play time and played in key situations -- so not your average fourth-line center -- but at the end of the day, his stock had fallen.
"Obviously winning cures all, and you’re happy about winning, but I don’t picture myself as a fourth-line player," said Richards.
"I still feel like I can play at a high level and play against the other team’s best players and not be a hazard when you’re on the ice."
The drop to fourth-line center hit home.
"I’m not happy being in that role, even though you’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win," said Richards. "But you feel you can do more to put yourself, prepare yourself, to be in a better situation. It was definitely a learning experience last year, maybe even a little bit of an eye-opener where you might take things for granted, or take having success for granted. We won, which is a good thing, but you feel like you can contribute to the team more and you don’t want to be put in that position again. And to be honest, I deserved to be put in that position last year."
There’s some humility and honesty that comes through here. And no doubt it’s what came across in those meetings with Lombardi before the Kings GM had to decide on the player’s future.
We shared Lombardi’s viewpoint on deciding not to buy out Richards in a June 25 article.
No real surprise that Lombardi would give Richards the benefit of the doubt, although the player was still a bit nervous before those end-of-season meetings.
"My relationship with Dean is pretty good. I know he’s a fan of me as a hockey player and a person," said Richards. "But at the end of the day, he’s got to do what’s best for the team, too. I guess you kind of have doubts. All I wanted is to be part of the Kings; I never looked at it as a bonus in the financial sense of maybe getting bought out and signing somewhere else. I like it in L.A., my family likes it there, my girlfriend comes down to visit once in a while and she likes it there, too. So I really didn’t want to become a free agent and leave. I want to be part of the Kings for a long time. So I was a little nervous from that point; even though I didn’t think Dean would do it, there’s always that chance that it could happen if he thought I couldn’t be the player I was before. If he thought I was on the downward track, maybe he would have done what was best for the team and bought me out. But it’s good to see he has confidence I can be back to being that player. It’s not easy working out every day and pushing towards it, but I’ve done it before and I felt I could do it. I gave him my word I would work towards being the player I was before."
According to Richards, there were indeed changes in his summer workouts.
"I worked out with trainers for the first time in a long time," he said. "I never felt that I needed to be pushed off the ice to work out, but I think it’s good to have somebody there, first to make sure that you’re going every day, and secondly to help me with different things; even just having a guy there to spot you so you can do that extra round, or having a guy there to make sure you’re doing the right technique and you don’t hurt yourself. You can push yourself harder in different areas. It was nice to have someone there that if there’s a day you don’t feel like going, he’s there to push you, so you don’t take the easy way out.
"I think before, not that I didn’t work hard, but I think I just took it for granted, where stuff was going on and you could skip a workout a day or two and not think it would be problem ... and then at the end of the summer, you’re probably not in the best shape you need to be in going into a season."
Did he do enough? How much better is Richards going to be this season? Will we ever see the Mike Richards of old or at something close to it?
Not even Richards can answer those questions yet. His play will do the talking, either way, in the coming months and when training camp opens at the end of the week.
What he does know is that it's been an experience.
"You live and learn," said Richards. "You take things for granted sometimes when you’re having success. Things that were working when you had success suddenly aren’t working anymore when you’re five or six years older, when you have to work a little harder. Definitely a learning curve."
LOS ANGELES -- It was eating at Darryl Sutter.
He went back and forth in his mind in the 24 hours leading up to Game 5, but in the end the Los Angeles Kings coach had to tell Robyn Regehr again that Regehr wouldn't be playing despite having gotten a clean bill of health earlier in the series.
"He'd been out so long, that's your biggest concern," said Sutter. "Quite honestly, I thought about it again this morning, about how much trust you have in everybody."
Regehr was injured May 3 at Anaheim in Game 1 of that second-round series. He got clearance to play after Game 1 of the Cup finals, but Sutter just didn't want to mess with a winning lineup, not to mention throw a player back in at this stage who hadn’t played in a month. One can see his thinking there. But it wasn't easy on the coach.
Add in the fact Sutter coached Regehr in Calgary when the Flames lost a heartbreaking 2004 Stanley Cup finals in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning and you know how much the Kings coach wanted this for Regehr, who had never won a Cup before.
But perhaps the perfect moment finally came when Kings captain Dustin Brown made Regehr the first player he would hand the Cup to Thursday night.
What a moment.
"By Brownie doing that, it tells you how they feel about each other," Sutter said of his close-knit team.
Regehr, 34, was thrilled when Brown looked to him with the Cup handoff.
"It was amazing," said Regehr. "I had a little bit of an idea. Matt [Greene] and some of the other veteran guys were talking about it before, and [maybe they] just said [to Brown], ‘If you wanted to give it to Marian first,’ but I guess they thought I was older than him, so I have a little more seniority. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s taken me 15 years. I got within a goal about 10 years ago. Just to get back here again was just awesome.
"I'm just excited about the winning," said Regehr, who played in eight postseason games because of the injury and did not play at all in the final two rounds. Not that any of that dulled Regehr’s moment with the world’s most recognizable trophy. "I didn't really know how it would feel,” he said. "I had a hard time tying my skates, I was so excited to come out here."
Regehr approved a trade to Los Angeles from the Buffalo Sabres two years ago just for this reason: to have a chance to win his first Cup.
"It's a huge part of it because that's what it's all about," said Regehr. "It’s about being involved with a championship-winning team. Now I can check that box. Talking to the guys that had done it before -- it’s something they’ll remember and cherish forever. Now I’ll have the feelings and memories forever."
BURNSIDE: Good day, my friend. I'm awaiting a flight westward in Chicago, and I must admit this whole Western Conference beauty remains a bit of a blur. Still can’t believe the Chicago Blackhawks couldn't close the deal after leading Game 7 by 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 counts, but that’s a credit to a Kings team that simply wouldn’t stay down on the mat. Not that they didn’t have their down moments against the defending Stanley Cup champs, blowing a 3-1 series lead with two straight losses that included blown third-period leads of their own. But here they are in the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three years, and they will have home-ice advantage against the surprising Rangers. I know you covered the Eastern Conference finals, and I know from your preview that you like the Kings’ chances at winning their second Cup over that same three-year period. But I don't think it's going to be as easy as some people think. The Kings left a lot on the table against Chicago. A lot. Dustin Brown called it the most emotional playoff series in which he has ever participated. Which leads us to the topic for our little tête-à-tête today, which is: Who is shaping up to be a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate? Let’s start with the favored Kings. I’ll toss out Jeff Carter’s name. He scored his ninth goal of the playoffs in Game 7 and led all players in the West finals with 11 points. He has been a force and a major factor in the surprising contributions of kids Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
LEBRUN: I’m catching a flight from Toronto to LAX later today, my friend. See you soon! Yes, as you saw in my Cup finals preview, although I do like the Kings to win the Cup, I suggested the Rangers will push them to seven games. Despite the superiority gap the West has over the East in general, the fact that the Kings had to work so hard to finish off the Blackhawks gives the Rangers an edge, due to L.A.'s fatigue level entering this series. Not to mention, Henrik Lundqvist over an inconsistent Jonathan Quick is another factor. So I do not think it’s going to be easy, by any measure. The taxing reality of having to beat the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago over 21 grueling games has really tested what I think the Kings have left. As for the Conn Smythe, although I agree Carter has been terrific, I think it goes without saying that if we held the vote today, Drew Doughty would win in a landslide. The dude is simply the best defenseman in the NHL. He leads all Kings and Rangers in ice time in these playoffs at 27:50 a game. Offense, defense, special teams, leadership, physicality -- Doughty does it all. And let’s not forget the Conn Smythe is for the entire playoffs. I agree Carter was sensational in the Western finals, but Doughty has been out of this world since Day 1 in mid-April.
BURNSIDE: I agree with you on Doughty. He’s at the emotional core of the Kings, and in fact it was interesting to hear Brown, the Kings’ captain, talk about the need for his teammates to sometimes calm Doughty down and keep him focused the right way. "I guess the way to kind of explain it [is] Dewy gets pretty emotional out there, and sometimes it takes one or two guys to go over there and calm him down. Then, he’s great. He gets very emotional, which I love, but sometimes he lets it get the best of him. Once somebody calms him down, then he takes over the game. He can use that emotion the right way." Doughty leads all defensemen with 16 points and has logged more ice time in the playoffs than any other player -- by a country mile. If he keeps up his current level of play, he’s going to make everyone in the Eastern Conference forget about Montreal’s great P.K. Subban, and if that’s the case, he’ll make a compelling case for a playoff MVP award. But what about the Kings’ calming presence in the locker room and on the ice, Anze Kopitar? He leads all playoff performers with 24 points and has registered at least a point in 17 of 21 games. Amazing. He played head-to-head with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews all series long, and I’m guessing he’ll see a lot of the Rangers’ top line in the finals as well. Definitely a worthy candidate.
LEBRUN: No question in my mind that Kopitar would be my next choice after Doughty. The Selke Trophy finalist has gone head-to-head with the likes of Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Toews in these playoffs and more than held his own, in some cases winning outright those key battles. No offense to the Rangers, but if Kopitar is matched up with Derek Stepan, that’s a bit of a step down from the previous centers he saw in these playoffs. Certainly, to me, it’s a 1-2 race of Doughty and Kopitar for Conn Smythe, and I agree Carter is a solid No. 3. What about the Rangers? As stated above, the Blueshirts have a better shot than we would have thought a week ago because of the Kings’ marathon Western finals. And if the Rangers do win the Cup, it’s because of Lundqvist. Although I suspect stud blueliner Ryan McDonagh also would garner some Conn Smythe traction if the Rangers win the Cup -- he’s been out of this world all postseason -- I still think that if New York pulls off the upset, it’s because King Henrik stumped the Kings. That, combined with his stellar play for most of the postseason, would get him a no-brainer Conn Smythe.
BURNSIDE: The discussion is pretty heavily weighted toward the Kings, and I think there’s ample reason for that. But, like you, I think this has the potential to be a long series, given the Kings’ heavy workload thus far and the extra rest the Rangers enjoyed after dispatching the Habs in six games. Everyone will point to Lundqvist as the Rangers’ prime Conn Smythe candidate, and it’s hard to argue with that. Except for a slight wobble in Game 5, he’s been pretty terrific since the Rangers fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the second round. If the Rangers push this to seven games, I could see a scenario in which Lundqvist earns MVP honors even if the Rangers can’t complete the dream run to a Cup championship. That said, the only other player I think has a chance to enter the discussion for the Rangers is Martin St. Louis. There’s the emotional aspect of what St. Louis has been through: losing his mother in the midst of the Pittsburgh series and continuing to play -- and play exceptionally well. And as the playoffs have gone on, he has become better and better. His overtime winner against the Habs in Game 4 was a series changer, as it gave the Rangers a 3-1 series lead that forced the Habs into full catch-up mode. You know he has the will and the skill to do more damage in the finals, and if the Rangers happen to effect the upset, I'm guessing St. Louis will have a hand in it and thus play a big role come voting time for the MVP honors.
LEBRUN: The emotion that has wrapped this Rangers team ever since Martin St. Louis’ mother passed away unexpectedly on May 8 has been incredible. The players have rallied around St. Louis, and he has responded through adversity by playing his best hockey of the season. It’s why there’s a sense of destiny around this team, even if they are the underdogs. I still think, though, that if the Rangers upset the Kings, that win nets Lundqvist the Conn Smythe.
Well, my friend, before the day is over, we’ll be drinking diet soda together. Safe travels. Hoping this is a terrific Cup finals.
Kings at Ducks, 9 ET (Series tied, 3-3)
Looking for an omen in this game?
Look no further than "The Mighty Ducks" -- the movie that spawned the Anaheim Ducks franchise. Corey Perry plays for the Ducks. He is their best goal scorer and one of the league's best players. Adam Banks was the best player on The Mighty Ducks, their best goal scorer and also one of the best players in the league.
One might say Corey Perry Corey Perry is the Adam Banks of this team. celebrates his birthday on Friday, and the actor who plays Adam Banks -- Vincent Larusso -- also celebrates his birthday on Friday.
The final game of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs will take place on Friday night, as the Kings visit the Ducks in Game 7. This will be the 27th game of the second round, tying the record for most games played in the round since the playoff field expanded to eight teams in 1968. This is the fourth All-California Game 7 in NHL history, and the Kings have won the first three.
* If the Kings win, it will be the first time in Stanley Cup playoff history that a team won consecutive series in a single season despite losing three straight games in each of them
* Kings: 5-0 in games when facing elimination in 2014 playoffs (4-0 in first-round series vs San Jose and Game 6 of this series)
21-26 all-time in games when facing playoff elimination
* Kings: 5-4 all-time in Game 7s (won last 2); 3-3 on road in Game 7s (won Game 7 at San Jose in first round)
* Anze Kopitar (LA): leads postseason in assists (13) and points (17); has points in 5 of first 6 games in series (0 G, 7 A)
* Marian Gaborik (LA): leads all players in goals during 2014 playoffs with 8 – 1 shy of career-high for a single postseason (had 9 goals in 18 games in 2003 playoffs with MIN)
* Ducks: last remaining regular-season division winner in 2014 playoffs (won Pacific Division)
* Ducks: 2-3 all-time in Game 7s (lost last 2); 1-1 at home in Game 7s (beat Phoenix in 1997 conference quarterfinals, lost to Detroit in 2013 conference quarterfinals)
* Ducks: leads all teams in postseason in power-play goals (12); 8-25 (32.0 pct) on power play at home in 2014 playoffs
* Corey Perry: 29th birthday
* Ryan Getzlaf (ANA): tied for 2nd in playoff scoring with 14 points (4 G, 10 A); 7 pts (1 G, 6 A) in first 6 games of this series (0 pts in Game 6)