When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, they did so while scoring 2.85 goals per game—a nice number but hardly anything that would get the team in the record books.
In 2014, the Kings are the highest-scoring team in the playoffs at 3.25 goals per game. That has a lot to do with the big guns, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, leading the way with a combined 14 goals and 35 points in 16 games, not to mention Game 7 dynamo Justin Williams having six goals and 12 points.
However, it's the Kings' second line—a moniker that may not apply in the same way it would for other second lines—that's making the biggest difference.
Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli combined for four goals and seven points as the Kings rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-2 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final to even the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Carter had a hat trick and Toffoli scored as well during a five-goal third period that changed the complexion of the series.
The always eloquent Darryl Sutter summed up the effort of that trio after the game.
"Yeah, he [Carter] scored a big power-play goal right away," the coach explained to the media afterward, "and then the line scored two goals and an empty-netter."
OK, so that really wasn't all that insightful. It was more of a factual statement.
But Pearson, Carter and Toffoli were the biggest reason the Kings aren't staring at a 2-0 hole as they head home to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Saturday night.
"I didn’t really have to do too much for them," Carter said of his three goals. "Stood in front of them for the first one. [Matt Greene] and Tanner made a great play on the second one. It was a good period, but didn’t really have to do too much."
The way Sutter deploys and shuffles his lines, it's hard to call Pearson-Carter-Toffoli a second line. Because of the power play and penalty kill, Pearson played just nine minutes and 16 seconds in Game 2—the fewest minutes of any King— whereas Toffoli's 11:56 was the third-lowest ice time of any King.
Sutter uses all four forward lines, and there usually isn't much of a difference in overall minutes between forwards.
But when that "second line" was together in Game 2, it did its fair share of damage.
Here's head-to-head possession from game 2. Richards, Carter lines & 3rd pair pummeled Hawks depth lines. pic.twitter.com/Itmura2t3k— Robert P. (@RobertJFTC) May 22, 2014
The playoffs usually reward the deeper teams, and the Kings certainly fit that bill. They haven't needed much beyond their top line of Gaborik, Kopitar and Dustin Brown thus far, as the first two players in that group are worthy of Conn Smythe Trophy consideration.
In two games of this series, though, that line has combined for just one assist and been handled quite well by the Blackhawks.
Who wins Game 3 between the Kings and Blackhawks?
That's where Carter's line has filled the void, making the most of matchups that don't usually involve the Jonathan Toews line.
It's a combination that seems an odd fit, considering Carter is a perennial 30-goal scorer who could play the wing on a line with Mike Richards, his longtime teammate with the Philadelphia Flyers. Yet he has found chemistry centering Pearson and Toffoli, a pair of rookies who played together for the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL this season.
As long as this line continues to click and take some of the pressure off Kopitar's line, the Kings could be raising their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
All statistics via NHL.com.