Brad Richardson, Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford sat side by side by side in the locker room at the Kings' El Segundo practice facility before they were united on the ice, so they perfected the timing of their passes only after they had polished their comedic timing. After weeks of idle chat before and after practices, they came up with roles and nicknames for themselves.
"You know those old Westerns? Richie's like the cell guard," Clifford said. "He's always leaning back in the chair guarding the prisoners. Simmer's the deputy marshal. I'm the sheriff."
Sounds like something out of the classic TV Western "Gunsmoke," which aired well before any of them was born. Clifford liked the notion.
"That would be a good name," Clifford said, thinking of the hockey tradition of honoring standout trios like the Kings' Triple Crown line, the Philadelphia Flyers' Legion of Doom and the Buffalo Sabres' French Connection.
The three deserved a catchy name — and more — for a two-goal, five-point performance against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday that supported Jonathan Quick's 51 saves in the 3-1 victory that extended the Kings' season.
Simmonds and Clifford teamed on the first goal and Clifford converted the rebound of a Simmonds shot on the second, after Richardson had pounced on a turnover. Quick's franchise-playoff-record save total was the backbone of the triumph that brought the teams back to Staples Center for Game 6 Monday night, but the energetic, tenacious work of wingers Clifford and Simmonds and center Richardson was the heart of a gutsy effort.
"That's a heck of a line. They definitely need something because they're playing unbelievably well," said enforcer Kevin Westgarth, who isn't their linemate but is their marshal and would love to see them get a nickname. "I think they're just getting better every game."
Since Clifford leads the Kings with three goals and shares the scoring lead with Richardson at five points each, and since the Kings would have gone home for the summer if they had lost to San Jose on Saturday, their teammates can call them the Save Our Season line.
"SOS. That wouldn't be too shabby right there," Westgarth said, laughing.
If they can save it again Monday, the series will be settled Wednesday in San Jose. But to get that far, the seventh-seeded Kings must get another brilliant performance from Quick and a far better team defensive effort than they got in allowing the Sharks to score six goals twice and sweep Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center last week.
The home team has won only once in this series, when the second-seeded Sharks took the opener in overtime. It's a pattern the Kings must end in order to keep playing and, Quick said, to reward their fans.
"Playing at home in front of our home crowd and giving them something to cheer about there," he said of the team's motivation. "They've been great over the past couple games and all season, for that matter. We want to give them something to go home happy about. . . .
"We've got to go in with our backs-against-the-wall mentality and play with a lot of pride."
The Clifford-Richardson-Simmonds trio has brought pride, physicality and fearlessness to every game. They're always creating havoc, always getting a body on someone, never hesitant to wade into high-contact, high-traffic areas. The Sharks have held Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth to one goal each and Jarret Stoll to one assist but haven't stopped the Richardson line.
The scrappy Richardson is the line's senior citizen at 26. Simmonds, making an impact again after slipping from 16 goals in 2009-10 to 14 this season, is 22. Clifford, a rock-solid 6 feet 2 and 207 pounds, is the baby at 20. "I just try to keep them in line," Richardson said.
"I look up to Richie. I love Richie," said Simmonds, who has a goal and three points in the series. "I just think we feed off each other real well. It's easy to read off of Richie and Cliffie. I always know where they're going to be."
They'd like most of all to be in San Jose on Wednesday for a chance at an upset. They're not ready just yet to borrow another page from those Westerns and ride off into the sunset.