The Kings had already disposed of the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks when Coach Darryl Sutter flipped two of his left wings and turned a good team into a juggernaut that has trampled the best the Western Conference has to offer while moving within a victory of earning a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.
Sutter’s decision to put brawny rookie Dwight King with Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis on the third line and move the hard-to-motivate Dustin Penner alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the second line was a stroke of genius. It meant every line had doses of size, quickness and puck-possession skills and was anchored by a solid, two-way center. With a big, productive first line and an energetic fourth line the Kings became even more cohesive and balanced — and, apparently, unstoppable.
King scored the decisive goal Thursday for the second straight game, ripping a wrist shot from the right circle to lead a third-period revival that gave the Kings a 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes and a prohibitive 3-0 series lead. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound winger has scored a goal in three straight games and has five in his last five, a key factor in the Kings’ ability to overwhelm the scrappy but undersized Coyotes.
“He’s a big strong body that can control the puck and obviously shoot the puck, like we saw tonight. Come playoff time, that type of player is huge,” Stoll said.
“He’s strong on the puck, he can get in on the forecheck, be physical, and control the puck down there. Him and Lewie are great down there controlling the puck. You’ve seen it lots here down the stretch, late in third periods, they’re controlling the corners side to side and you see what he can do when he shoots the puck. He’s a very special player for us right now.”
King, a fourth-round pick by the Kings in 2007, made his NHL debut last season but played only six games while bouncing from the first to the fourth lines without sticking or recording a point.
He started this season with Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League and stayed there until mid-February, promoted with fellow winger Jordan Nolan to bring the big team speed and enthusiasm in a power-forward role.
“I just developed,” King said of why he has managed to stick now and play a crucial role. “It was about a year’s time. I just got a little more confident, a little quicker, a little better. Stronger. And a little more consistent, which is all key.”
Penner has meshed well with Richards and Carter while King has become the ideal partner for Stoll, the veteran center, and Lewis, the speedy center-turned-winger. They’ve become demons on the forecheck and earned an ovation from the Staples Center crowd late in the third period in tribute to their dominance.
“I think we all work, that’s the biggest thing. We like to get pucks in deep and we like to work for each other, read off each other and use each other. It’s just chemistry,” King said.
That was evident on his goal Thursday. Lewis had the puck along the boards and King came over to help him. “Nobody seemed to close on me so I took one more quick step and shot it high glove,” King said, almost matter-of-factly.
His calmness showed he has learned a lot from his elders. The mood in the Kings’ locker room was quiet confidence without complacency. Everyone was calm, deflecting all questions about having a chance on Sunday to play giant-killer again and complete a 1-2-3 elimination of the conference’s top-seeded teams.
“There’s guys in here who have been to the Cup [finals] and won the Cup so they keep everybody grounded,” King said. “We didn’t play this hard just to make it this far. We want to go all the way and we have to refocus every game to get there.”
Their world has narrowed to one game, with a place in the Stanley Cup finals their reward. “Things are going great, obviously, with a little bit of success we’re having,” King said. “Myself lately here, you can’t ask for more.”