Playing on a line with veteran centre Jeff Carter and another kid,
Tanner Pearson, the Kings' Tyler Toffoli has continued to prove his ability to play his
best hockey at the most important time of the season.
He is only 22 years old, but already Tyler Toffoli is developing a reputation as an NHL playoff monster.
No surprise, really. He was a strong post-season performer with the Ottawa 67's before (and after) the Los Angeles Kings picked him in the second round of the 2010 entry draft, 47th overall.
Last year Toffoli spent most of his first pro season with Manchester of the American Hockey League, but when recalled by the Kings to participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs, he registered two goals and six points in 12 games. Not bad for a 21-year-old.
This season, playing on a line with veteran centre Jeff Carter and another kid, Tanner Pearson, Toffoli has continued to prove his ability to play his best hockey at the most important time of the season. He has five goals and nine points in 16 games and has been a big reason why Carter has already had the most productive NHL playoffs of his career with seven goals and 16 points in 16 games.
Toffoli currently stands third in rookie scoring in the playoffs, one point behind Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Torrie Krug of the Boston Bruins, both of whom have been eliminated.
As a junior who played four seasons with the 67's, Toffoli was a scoring terror in the spring. In his rookie season he had two goals and eight points in seven games. The next year it was seven goals and 13 points in 12 games, followed by three goals and eight points in four games and, finally, 11 goals and 18 points in 18 games.
All told, that's 47 points in 42 playoff games.
Two of Toffoli's goals in this season's playoffs are game winners. But perhaps his most significant game-altering play in the post-season was the save he made in Game 2, when his Kings throttled the Blackhawks 6-2.
With the game at 0-0, Chicago's Patrick Kane took a backhand shot from the slot that Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick stopped. The puck flew high into the air, and when it hit the ice, it appeared its momentum would carry it over the goal line. At the last second Toffoli, standing at the side of the net, swatter it away.
"I saw it go in the air," Toffoli said. "I figured it was going to bounce right in. I think [Willie Mitchell] pushed Peter Regin into the net and it went off his helmet... off his stick. Thank God my stick was there. It just bounced off my stick."
The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead and threatened to pull ahead 3-0 late in the second period if not for a great save by Quick on Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook, who had broken in two-on-one with Kris Versteeg.
The Kings got the series to even with a late second-period goal and five unanswered markers in the third period.
Toffoli and Carter played together in last season's playoffs, so it was no surprise when Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter put them together this year. It was partly in response to veteran Mike Richards' struggles, but Toffoli has prospered nevertheless.
He views playing with Carter as a great opportunity.
"I think he really showed to everyone in the world what he could do in the Olympics this year," Toffoli said. "It's incredible to play with him. He's a real easy guy to play with. I've said it a lot of times, he's really honest. He'll let you know if you are doing things right or wrong. I think that is what is making our line successful so far."
Putting it all in perspective
The Blackhawks defeated the Kings in all three regular-season games and then in Game 1 of the Western Conference final. Sutter was asked if a win in Game 2 gives his team confidence.
"You don't fight with confidence, never seen it once," Sutter said. "You were probably questioning how they played in Game 1. We played better in Game 1 than we did in Game 2. We didn't leave that game not feeling confident."
Welcome back, Shaw
The Blackhawks will have centre Andrew Shaw in the lineup for Game 3 in Los Angeles on Saturday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET). Shaw, 22, is a wonderful energy player who has two goals and four points in seven playoff games, but has been out since May 2 with a right leg injury.
"He's got an element you appreciate, his competitiveness," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "He's got some skills and abrasiveness. He's got the right attitude to find a way to get things done. Getting him back in our lineup is exciting."
Don't blame Corey
When the wheels came off in the third period of Game 2, it was not all goalie Corey Crawford's fault, said coach Quenneville.
"I think it was a team effort," Quenneville said. "When we got behind 3-2, 4-2, we were definitely taking more chances that we're accustomed to. We were pressing. Then came the high-quality chances against us. One thing about Corey, he's been a fighter this entire playoffs... We know we're going to L.A. and need him to be big."
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.