Los Angeles vs. San Jose: Anze Kopitar's Emergence Makes Kings a Force

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2013

The Los Angeles Kings have all the elements to win their second straight Stanley Cup.

They have the strength up front with players like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown.

They have a powerful and swift defense that makes few mistakes. In the rare cases players like Slava Voynov, Drew Doughty or Jake Muzzin make a mistake, the Kings have Jonathan Quick in goal to clean up for them.

All he did last year was win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the one thing that the Kings had to be concerned about was Anze Kopitar. He is the team's best all-around player. When it comes to offense, he can dominate with his instincts and explosiveness.

But Kopitar has struggled for the Kings this year. His regular-season numbers were decent—10 goals and 32 assists in 47 games—but he's capable of much more.

Kopitar slumped to end the regular season, going scoreless in his final 16 games, and that dry spell carried into the playoffs. Going into Game 5 of the Kings' series with the San Jose Sharks, he had one goal and four assists in 10 playoff games. In last year's playoff run, Kopitar had eight goals and 12 assists in 20 games.

But Kopitar came through for the Kings as the series returned to Staples Center. The Kings were dominating in the offensive zone, but they couldn't dent Niemi until the late stages of the second period.

With traffic in front, Kyle Clifford's shot was deflected to an open Kopitar to Niemi's side. Kopitar calmly backhanded the loose puck into the back of the net.

The Kings took the momentum from that goal and ran with it. Voynov added to the lead early in the third period and the Sharks were not able to get one past Quick. An empty-net goal by Jeff Carter made the final score 3-0 and gave the Kings a 3-2 lead in the series.

But the best news was clearly Kopitar's ability to score the goal that proved to be the game-winner.

After the game was over, Kopitar was relieved as he spoke with Joe Micheletti of the NBC Sports Network. "Yes, I have to say that my legs feel lighter after scoring that goal," Kopitar said with a smile.

Credit Kings head coach Darryl Sutter for helping Kopitar find a way to score his second goal of the postseason. Sutter placed energy forward Kyle Clifford on the same line as Kopitar, and the move seemed to help the Kings create far more chances than they had in the two games that were played in San Jose. The Sharks won both of those games.

Kopitar had three shots on goal and worked well with Clifford and Justin Williams. Brown, who had skated with Kopitar and Williams, played with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King. Brown had just one shot on goal, but he also had seven hits and finished a plus-one.

A relaxed Kopitar could be a huge factor for the Kings. With the Chicago Blackhawks struggling badly in their conference semifinal matchup with the Detroit Red Wings and trailing 3-1, the Kings may be able to play themselves into the role of Stanley Cup favorites the rest of the way.

If Kopitar is squeezing his stick tightly and missing opportunities, the Kings are in trouble. But when he's relaxed and relying on his instincts, he's a formidable player.

That's the best news for a Kings team that can clinch the series with a victory Sunday night in San Jose.