Kings Coach Darryl Sutter could make some lineup changes for Game 5. (Christian Petersen / Getty…)
ST. LOUIS -- The Kings tied their playoff series against the St. Louis Blues at two games each after Kings Coach Darryl Sutter switched from using six defensemen and 12 forwards to a seven-defenseman, 11-forward lineup that brought Alec Martinez into the mix.
But Sutter said after Wednesday’s morning skate that he hadn’t decided if he will keep the same configuration for Game 5, to be played Wednesday at 6 p.m. PDT at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
A key factor in his decision is that the Blues are expected to reunite their rugged fourth line of Chris Porter, Adam Cracknell and Ryan Reaves -- a physical force in the first two games of the series here.
The Kings got by in Games 3 and 4 with giving extra shifts to Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Jeff Carter at right wing on a makeshift fourth line with Kyle Clifford and Colin Fraser, but that meant extra minutes and potentially more fatigue for Brown, Williams and Carter. The benefit was that Martinez was effective in both games, moving the puck well and earning an assist in each game while playing 12 minutes and 45 seconds in Game 3 and 12:44 in Game 4.
Jordan Nolan spent much of the season on the fourth line, but he and Dwight King -- who were catalysts in the Kings’ Stanley Cup run last spring -- didn’t progress this season. King has kept a spot with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but mainly because the Kings are thin on the left side. Nolan was scratched from the lineup for Games 3 and 4. Sutter has tried Fraser and Brad Richardson in the middle on that fourth line.
“I don’t know yet what we’re doing, if we’re going to go seven and 11, to be quite honest,” Sutter said Wednesday. “But that’s an effective line for them, an effective line at home for them, and they didn’t play many minutes on the road.
“To be quite honest, we were a litltle different there. Our fourth line, we’ve had one guy struggle the whole year. It didn’t matter who we put on the fourth line, either the centerman or the right wing has struggled the whole year. That’s kind of what we’re up against too. We played Richardson in Game 1, played [Fraser] in Game 2, played Jordie in both. Just looking for the right answer there, that’s all. At the end of the day, those guys give you seven to 10 minutes. They’d better give it to you.”
So far in this series, the home team has won each game. Asked what it will take for the Kings to break that pattern on Wednesday, center Jarret Stoll said subtle plays that involve will could ultimately be decisive.
“There’s not much of a difference. It’s such a fine line every game,” he said. “It’s little plays, little decisions, little battles, discipline -- all those little, tiny things that for the average fan that’s watching the game you maybe don’t notice things, but it’s a lot of those. Bearing down on our chances, being disciplined and doing all the hard, smart things it takes to win a road game in the playoffs.”
Center Anze Kopitar, who ended a 19-game goal drought in the Kings’ 4-3 victory Monday at Staples Center, said the “nice gorilla” that had been on his back during his slump didn’t make the trip and that he hoped it had disappeared for good.
“It was nice to get that one. Especially the timing too, to get it tied up mid-third, I think,” said Kopitar, who brought the Kings even at 3-3 at 7:14 of the third period. “It feels nice to score a goal again.”
The Kings may need four goals again to win on Wednesday -- or this tightly played series could produce another 1-0 decision, the score the Kings won by on Saturday in Game 3. Kopitar said he drew encouragement from the team’s Game 4 performance not only because of the four-goal outburst but because of the resilience players showed.
“Just the way we came back after a fairly big hole in the first five minutes of the game was definitely a good sign,” Kopitar said of the Kings’ early 2-0 deficit. “And now we’ve got to make sure we don’t get into a hole tonight and just start off the game the way we can.”
One more note: The Kings will recall about a dozen players from their American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H., to become a sort of taxi squad. The players are scheduled to meet up with the Kings on Friday.
The Manchester Monarchs have been eliminated from the AHL playoffs, and he theory behind bringing in extra players is that the youngsters can get a feel for what playoff hockey is like and can practice in the big-league facility so they'll know what to expect in the future.
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