Kings left wing Dwight King (74) battles Blues defenseman Roman Polak during… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
There was a good deal of playoff chatter around the Kings training facility Sunday morning.
After an abbreviated skate, with the team still waiting to hear about its second-round matchup, players imagined the excitement of a freeway series against the Ducks. They talked about facing a familiar — and tough — opponent in the San Jose Sharks.
Dwight King had no preference either way. He was just hoping for a happy ending.
"In the playoffs, you have more eyes on you," he said. "You have the chance to be a hero."
The young left winger is looking to do something big and redeem himself as the Kings begin their Western Conference semifinal series this week.
As of Sunday, there was still no word about whether the team will have forward Kyle Clifford back in the lineup. Clifford missed the final game of a first-round victory over the St. Louis Blues.
Asked whether he could be specific about Clifford's injury and possible return, Coach Darryl Sutter said: "No."
If the big, strong Clifford remains sidelined, others will have to fill the gap on a team that prefers a physical brand of play.
"That's where we create a lot of our opportunities," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We get in there hard, bang some bodies, make a turnover and then get a shot on net."
At 6-4, 232 pounds, King is every bit as large and imposing as Clifford. Last season, as a late call-up from the minors, he provided a burst of energy and some needed offense with five goals in five games during the Kings' playoff run.
His hot streak included a pair of game-winners and a two-goal performance against the Phoenix Coyotes in the conference finals. It also boosted expectations for this season.
But, so far, the 2012-13 season has been — in King's words — "not the greatest."
Averaging about 13 minutes over 47 regular-season games, he recorded four goals and six assists, never quite finding the rhythm that made him effective before.
"I had a slow start," he said. "You look back and you always want to do better."
Now comes the opportunity for a new beginning.
The rugged nature of the Blues series helped. Paired with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter of late, King believes he has performed better, staying more focused on the ice.
"There are times when you can hold onto the puck and make plays," he said. "You feel like you can contribute more to the team … it's just a matter of inches here and there."
Still, the Blues were effective in neutralizing the Kings' forecheck through much of six games. Opponents know that is critical against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
As the postseason continues, the Kings must do a better job of making plays on defense and establishing themselves at the other end. That's where King hopes he can help.
"You want to spend more time on the forecheck in their zone," he said. "When you do that, the game becomes a lot more fun."
It becomes the type of game where a young forward can turn things around. Maybe even be a hero.