Anze Kopitar finds himself just as Kings are lost
CHICAGO -- If nothing else, Anze Kopitar went down fighting.
Struggling through a postseason that had seen him looking sluggish at times, unable to score with any regularity, the Kings center on Saturday night came up with his best game in a month.
Unfortunately for the Kings, his goal and desperate assist were not enough to prevent a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second overtime at the United Center.
The defeat meant an end to the season for the Kings, with Chicago taking the Western Conference finals, four games to one, and advancing to face the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
Going into the game, Kopitar had no questions about the urgency of the situation.
“We’re in a position where either you do it or you’re going home,” he said beforehand. “We’ve got to find a way to win.”
The Kings failed to do that, but Kopitar’s play in Game 5 at least made up for some earlier frustrations and validated his coach’s belief in him. Hours before the puck dropped, Darryl Sutter stood up for his veteran.
Yes, Sutter was switching his star to a different line, but insisted that he was not giving up on the big man.
“It’s really got nothing to do with Kopi,” Sutter said. “Kopi has been as good as their best centerman in the series when you look at it.”
Maybe so, but Kopitar came into Saturday’s game with only seven points in the playoffs, well off his pace of last season, when he led the team to the Stanley Cup.
“They’re just eliminating time and space,” he said of the Blackhawks. “We’ve got to find a way to break through and find that space.”
There had been speculation about a lingering injury, which neither Kopitar nor team officials wanted to talk about. “Yeah, it’s frustrating,” he said of his slump.
But Kopitar looked revitalized Saturday, playing much of the time alongside Justin Williams and Dwight King. He seemed to move a little quicker, getting to the crease more often.
His scoring game showed signs of life in the second period with a shot that looped just over the goal. It was a harbinger of things to come.
In the third period, he parked in front of Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford as teammate Jeff Carter unleashed a hard shot from the blue line. Crawford gave up a short rebound and Kopitar was in position to knock it between the goalie’s pads to tie the score at 2-2.
Later, he sent the puck in deep, chased after it and delivered a hit. It was a way of creating the space he wanted and it led to a Kings scoring opportunity.
Then came an even bigger play. With Chicago up 3-2 and time — if not the entire season — ticking away, Kopitar corralled the puck along the boards and sent a hard shot toward the net.
Mike Richards got a stick on the puck, which deflected past Crawford for a goal. With just 9.4 seconds left on the clock, the game was headed for overtime.
Through an overtime-plus, Kopitar had spent 25:31 on the ice, recording four shots and four hits. He also had won nine of 14 faceoffs, helping the Kings to a 56%-to-44% advantage in an area in which they had struggled.
Kopitar had talked about forging such a breakthrough after the disappointment of Game 4, a rare loss at Staples Center that put the Kings down three games to one. That night, he had only one shot on goal.
While frustrated, Kopitar said he and his teammates had not given up hope.
“We know we can do it. It’s a matter of going there and getting it done.”
While Kopitar did just that Saturday night, it was too little, too late.
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