Kings forward Jeff Carter celebrates a shootout goal during a win over the… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
VANCOUVER, Canada -- Winger Jeff Carter, who missed the Kings’ last five games because of a bruised ankle bone, will return in the team’s playoff opener Wednesday at Vancouver's Rogers Arena. He was on the right side with Dwight King and Mike Richards during the Kings' game-day skate and Coach Darryl Sutter, who had previously been hesitant to say whether Carter would play, acknowledged after the session that Carter will be in.
Carter’s return could be a boost for Richards, who connected well with his former Flyers linemate after the Kings acquired Carter from Columbus in February. Richards had 18 goals and 44 points in 74 games, a steep decline from his previous season’s 66 points in 81 games with Philadelphia.
Asked if Richards would produce in the playoffs, Sutter was positive. “He will,” Sutter said. “Look at it. He’s a pretty good playoff player. He’s been a pretty good player for us since he’s been here.”
Richards had 16 goals and 50 points in 63 playoff games with the Flyers, including their 2010 run to the Stanley Cup finals. He had 23 points in 23 games during that playoff push, which ended in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Andrei Loktionov, recalled by the Kings from Manchester, N.H., of the American Hockey League after forward Brad Richardson underwent an emergency appendectomy on Monday, arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday night and participated in the morning skate.
Loktionov said he got a call at 8 p.m. on Monday and traveled most of Tuesday to get to Vancouver. He missed the Kings’ first-round playoff series against San Jose last spring after injuring his shoulder.
“My first time in NHL playoffs, so we’ll see. I have to be ready,” he said.
His teammates say they’re ready for whatever the Canucks — minus prolific winger Daniel Sedin — will throw at them.
“This is why we play. This is the most fun time of the year to play,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “It’s just a matter of keeping your emotions in check. It’s obviously easy to get up and play in those games, but it’s important, though, we’ve got to have that calmness to us as well.
“We want to be physical when we can. We can’t be running out of the way to make hits. The other part about physicality is it’s not necessarily the big hits. It’s just rubbing guys out consistently, which can over the course of a seven-game series wear on guys. Especially on their skill guys we’ve got to be hard.”
Brown said the absence of Sedin, who has a concussion, won’t alter the Kings’ approach.
“Obviously he’s a big part of their team but the last 10 days they’ve proven they can be pretty successful without him and are a dangerous team regardless of whether he’s in or out of the lineup,” Brown said. “Our game plan doesn’t change just because he’s out. It should probably bring more awareness to being really good while he is out.”
This is the third straight season the Kings have made the playoffs, but they were eliminated in the first round by Vancouver two years ago and by San Jose last year. Expectations are higher now, though a match-up against the top-seeded Canucks will be a formidable obstacle to L.A.'s hopes of finally getting past the first round.
“Vancouver has been the best team in the league two years in a row now. We have to have no lapses in our game for that to happen,” Brown said. “That’s really up to everyone individually to get themselves ready and be in the right mind-set. You can’t be too excited where you get jittery and you start making mistakes or plays you normally wouldn’t make.
“It’s important to stick to our game plan and make it hard on their skill guys. They’re going to score goals. We’ve got to make them earn their goals and not give them away.”