Anze Kopitar: Top 5 Plays This Postseason from Los Angeles Kings' Center
It's easy to point to the heroics of Jonathan Quick between the pipes as the catalyst behind the Kings' impressive run this postseason, and for good reason. However, Quick's saves mean nothing if there's no production down the ice. Quick doesn't win games for his team–he prevents his team from losing.
Strong cases can also be made for the performances of blueliner Drew Doughty, who has been spectacular with his physical play, and captain Dustin Brown, who has come up with timely goals and huge hits in critical moments.
But it's Kopitar's play this postseason that has driven these Kings forward time-after-time.
He's not your typical athlete of this day and age.
Off the ice he has a calm and humble demeanor which, when compared to that of other NHL players, is surprisingly refreshing.
On the ice, he's no different–his first fight in the NHL was in the first round of this postseason, and he didn't instigate it.
Kopitar doesn't need the tough-guy attitude–he does his talking on the ice–and these playoffs have been no exception.
As an alternate captain, Kopitar's leadership on and off the ice has pushed his Kings to within three wins of the Stanley Cup.
Here are his top 5 plays of this year's postseason.
No. 5: Kopitar, El Matador
Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 4, Canucks 3 - Kings 1
Who knew hockey and bullfighting could be so similar?
While chasing down a loose puck, Kopitar felt the presence of a Vancouver defenseman (or a raging bull, if you will). Fight for it? Why?
Like a seasoned matador in the arenas of Spain, Kopi simply lifts his arms, lets the hapless Canuck pass him by, collects the puck (now the only thing between him and the goal), and fires a peach of a wrist shot past a helpless Cory Schneider.
The goal is gorgeous on its own, but the way Kopitar dumbfounded the oncoming defenseman beforehand was stunning.
The Kings would go on to lose that game, but the juke and goal were sweet stuff.
No. 4: Kopitar...with the Save?!
Western Conference Semifinals Game 4, Blues 1 - Kings 3
With the Kings up 2-1 against St. Louis, the Blues thought they had the puck in the net–the problem was that they didn't.
With the puck sliding towards goal and goalie Jonathan Quick beaten, Kopitar quickly pulled the puck back under the cover of Quick, where it would safely remain.
Sure, there are better highlights, but this is exactly the kind of drive you see in players of teams that want to go all the way.
Kopitar is playing the kind of spirited hockey that separates the boys from the men come playoff time. As alternate captain, the Kings' star center is demonstrating that he can lead with more than just his offense.
This play also carried some significance because it didn't allow St. Louis to equalize. Who knows what could have happened if they did?
The Kings would score one more time and complete the sweep.
No. 3: Bamboozling Backhand
Western Conference Finals Game 3, Coyotes 1 - Kings 2
In this tight game against Phoenix, the Kings found themselves down 0-1 three minutes into the second period.
In this play Kopitar wins the puck along the boards and plays a quick give-and-go with Dustin Brown. Brown placed the puck perfectly down the ice, exactly where Kopitar needed it.
Only Mike Smith remained to be beat.
With a series of quick dekes, Kopitar attempted to get Mike Smith to pick a side. Smith didn't fall for them though. As he went down to block, however, he did leave a small opening on the ice between his skate and the pole.
And Kopitar found that gap. Backhanded.
No. 2: Shorthanded Goal vs. St. Louis
Western Conference Semifinal Game 2, Kings 5 - Blues 2
The Kings have used the forecheck to devastating effect–just ask the Canucks, Blues, or Coyotes about it. The Kings have scored five shorthanded goals this postseason.
Kopitar has two of them.
This play starts with Dustin Brown's pressure leading to a turnover. He recovers the puck, turns and makes a perfect pass into the lane for an oncoming Kopitar, and, well, the rest is history.
The skill shown by Kopitar to collect the puck, stop on a dime, extend his upper body to the left, and corral the puck right around an outstretched Brian Elliot demonstrates his exceptional skating ability and puck handling skills.
Even though Kopi absolutely baffled Elliot on this one, there's one that carries a little more weight.
No. 1: Overtime Winner on Martin Brodeur
Stanley Cup Finals Game 1, Kings 2 - Devils 1
When Justin Williams blindly backhanded the puck into the path of a breaking Kopitar, slow motion kicked in. Kopitar only had the puck for a little over three seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.
Time simply stopped.
Overtime. Kopitar vs Marty Brodeur.
Three-time Stanley Cup champion, postseason shutout record-holder and future Hall of Famer. That Marty Brodeur.
No problem. In the words of Dan Arritt, of ESPN:
Kopitar headed straight at Brodeur, widened his stance as he moved into the slot, allowing him to curb his momentum. Like a batter looking for a fastball and getting fooled by a changeup, Brodeur made the first move, leaning forward with his stick paddle square to the ice. Kopitar pulled the puck back to his forehand, then flicked a left-handed shot under Brodeur's outstretched legs as the netminder sprawled on his stomach.
The amount of time it takes to read those words is easily over five times longer than the time Kopitar had the puck.
The goal cleared out the Prudential Center faster than a swarm of killer wasps. As the Kings cleared the bench and assaulted their beloved center, Brodeur could only hang his head and skate back to the locker room, knowing that he had been beaten by a true future star.
The Kings are three wins from lifting the Stanley Cup.
If Kopitar continues playing the role of Fairy Godmother, there's no reason the Kings's Cinderella Story won't end happily ever after–with a Stanley Cup.
Keep it up, Kopi.