In these tense times, with the Kings having scored one goal in each of their first three playoff games against the St. Louis Blues and needing a win Monday at Staples Center to tie the series, it somehow made perfect sense that defenseman Alec Martinez wore a huge sombrero onto the ice for practice Sunday along with one white sock, one red sock and a green jersey.
As much sense, maybe, as a low-scoring team deploying seven defensemen Saturday. But that worked out pretty well: Martinez, playing for the first time since April 2, used his mobility to jump into the craziness around the net and earn an assist on the Slava Voynov goal that lifted the Kings to a 1-0 victory.
Give credit for the lineup change to Coach Darryl Sutter, who wanted to give his defense corps more energy without taking out brawny Keaton Ellerby. He scratched Jordan Nolan and had his top three right wings take extra shifts on the rarely used fourth line. And credit Sutter again for the sombrero.
"Cinco de Mayo. Gotta honor him," said Sutter, who bought it at a liquor store Sunday.
Martinez, a Michigan native, got his surname from a grandfather whose family immigrated to the United States from Spain. He speaks only high-school Spanish, but he was happy to wear the sombrero to lighten the mood for teammates and fans at Sunday's optional practice in El Segundo.
"It's all in good fun," said Martinez, who played 12 minutes 45 seconds Saturday. "Playoffs are a very revved up time of year and I think if you can get a good laugh in and keep things light, especially on a non-game day, it can release some tension and it can do some good things for the club. I know the guys got a good laugh out of it. I got a good laugh."
Martinez, who was squeezed out of the lineup when the Kings acquired Robyn Regehr, was paired mostly with Rob Scuderi. But with an odd number of defensemen, the rotations changed a lot and he was out with Voynov for the goal.
"It was, I think, a nice change. I think it worked out really well," Regehr said of the first game in which he and Martinez both played. "I think Marty stepped in and played really well for not having played for about a month and was part of the winning goal, the only goal. So that was huge for him."
Martinez said he ventured deep into the zone because he saw all five Blues skaters down low and felt confident enough about his skating ability to catch anyone if the puck moved the other way. He called the scene "just mayhem," which he enhanced by hacking and whacking at the puck before it slid to Voynov in the right circle.
"Fortunately, it popped out and Slava was able to find that hole and put it in there," Martinez said. "I really can't describe it because it was just absolute chaos. I know I got hammered at the end of it. but I didn't care because we scored."
Martinez said he hadn't been told whether he will play Monday.
"I worked hard the past month to keep myself ready," he said. "I felt a little rusty, but it's playoff hockey and every guy wants to play in these games. If you're having a hard time getting up for a playoff game, then you've got bigger problems."
The NHL is expected Monday to confirm the outdoor game to be played between the Kings and Ducks on Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium.