Richards' return to Kings nearly a storybook ending
CHICAGO — Saturday morning, Kings coach Darryl Sutter gave Mike Richards a 50-50 chance to play in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
The game-time decision to play the star center nearly paid off 100 percent.
Nearly in that the Kings eventually lost 4-3 in a second overtime to the Blackhawks and were eliminated 4-1 in the best of seven series.
But Richards forced the game into overtime with only 9.4 seconds left, scoring on a deflection to tie the game 3-3 at the United Center. It gave the defending champions a chance to go back to the Stanley Cup Final until Patrick Kane thwarted their mission with the game-winner, his third goal of the night.
There was little rust on Richards, who sat out the previous three games with a concussion after a thunderous check in Game 1 from Dave Bolland.
Before his injury, he had led the Kings with 10 playoff points off two goals and eight assists.
“It's a big emotional boost,” Kings center Colin Fraser said of Richards' pending return before the game.
The Kings were beat up more than many realized during their playoff run, Sutter said after the team was eliminated.
Sutter said that “three, four guys” were game-time decisions after Game 6 against the Sharks in the conference semifinals.
“I know it's something that gets talked lots about,” he said. “You have to stay healthy. You have to be close to 100 percent, especially with your top guys. I know we weren't.”
Winger Dustin Brown played with a torn knee ligament, defenseman Drew Doughty played with an injured ankle and winger Justin Williams played with a shoulder injury, according to Tweets from the Los Angeles Times.
Despite falling short of a chance to defend their Stanley Cup, the Kings weren't leaving the ice with too many regrets.
“As you know, I think we went further than (many expected),” Sutter said. “We went to the (Western) Conference finals again. That tells you how fine a line it is. We accomplished everything. Once you set the bar up there, then that's your bar. So obviously we're disappointed to lose to Chicago, but we're certainly not disappointed in how we played.”
Kopitar’s slump ended
Center Anze Kopitar's slump officially ended in Game 5.
After scoring only two goals through the playoffs — and none against the Blackhawks in the first four games of the series — he was critical Saturday night.
Back to the top line for Game 5, he made the most of it. He scored the Kings’ second goal to tie the game 2-2 in the third period and served the assist for the Richards goal that forced overtime.