"We knew before that L.A. is a winning city," Anze Kopitar says. (Dilip Vishwanat / Getty…)
This has been an exciting and unprecedented time for sports fans in the Los Angeles area, with the Kings, Lakers and Clippers in the playoffs, the Dodgers being sold to the group fronted by Magic Johnson and the Angels getting a no-hitter Wednesday from local product Jered Weaver.
Although the playoffs in any sport demand a heightened intensity, several players on the Kings said Thursday they’ve been keeping an eye on the other local teams and are hoping they can all find success this spring.
"Here in L.A. it seems like there’s a lot going on but it’s good, too. We’re getting a little bit more exposure here in the city,” defenseman Alec Martinez said Thursday morning at Staples Center as the Kings prepared to face the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their second-round series.
“We have great fans already, but if we can get more people interested that’s great. We’d love to have them out at the games. They help us out a lot.”
So there’s room on the bandwagon?
“Come support us and that’s fine with me,” he said, smiling.
Center Colin Fraser said he’s enjoying this moment as a fan and as an athlete.
“It’s fun. Even going back to my days in Chicago, we had a good relationship with the White Sox and the Cubs. They’d come to our games, we’d go to their games kind of thing,” he said.
“I’m sure players on the other teams are doing the same thing, watching us. Hopefully we can win some games and then everybody will be jumping on the bandwagon — basketball players and the baseball players.”
The Kings might need a bigger bandwagon, then.
“That’s all right. We’ll take everyone we can get,” Fraser said.
Center Anze Kopitar made a good point, recognizing that succeeding is the best way to make a strong impression in a crowded sports market. The Kings have been, um, lacking in that area, especially when compared with the Lakers, one of their Staples Center co-tenants.
“We knew before that L.A. is a winning city. You have to win here to be recognized, I guess, to be big," Kopitar said. “That’s why the Lakers have been really, I guess, recognized around here. The Clippers, no disrespect to them, but the last couple of years they didn’t get a whole lot of respect from anybody. This year, they made the playoffs. They had a good season and now they’re getting a lot of recognition too. So that’s just the way it goes around here.”
The Kings lead their playoff series, 2-0, and are trying to reach the conference finals for only the second time in their history. The Kings’ penalty killing has been a key to their success to date — they’ve killed all 12 disadvantages and have scored twice while short-handed in this series — and they’ve continued to benefit from the stellar play of goaltender Jonathan Quick. He has stopped 55 of 58 shots for a .948 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average.
However, the Blues were expecting defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to return after missing Game 2 because of an undisclosed injury he suffered after being pushed into the boards by Kings winger Dwight King late in the second period of the series opener. Pietrangelo led the Blues this season by averaging 24 minutes 43 seconds’ ice time per game and plays in all situations. He ranked third in team scoring with 12 goals and 51 points.
St. Louis Coach Ken Hitchcock was asked which area of the Blues’ game would get the biggest boost from Pietrangelo’s return but said the defenseman’s overall impact made it difficult to isolate one area.
“The game’s 1-1 and we’re probably playing better than they are and he goes out and this whole thing changes. It’s hard to believe that one player makes that big a difference, but obviously in our game he did,” Hitchcock said.
“There’s going to be no tiedown on allowing him to play the minutes. He’s going to have to play big minutes. He knows that. So we waited until the last possible minute so he could play without any reservation. He’s there now.”
Hitchcock said he was confident his team will play better on the road than it did at home.
“I just don’t think we want the season to end,” he said. “We’ll play well. I think we’re going to get our best game tonight.”
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