EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. - It was a moment that had Los Angeles Kings fans holding their collective breath. Drew Doughty yelped in pain after taking a slash from Ducks defenceman Francois Beauchemin to the back of the knee Monday night. He slowly skated off the ice struggling to put weight on the injured leg.
"It was just a numb feeling," said Doughty, who has logged a team-high 27:14 of ice time per game in the playoffs. "It hits a little nerve and just goes numb for three minutes, four minutes and then it's fine. I've had it happen before so I wasn't scared, but it's numb so it's awkward to skate on."
Doughty, who returned to the ice a few shifts after the slash, doesn't believe Beauchemin hit him in the sensitive spot on purpose. But that doesn't mean he'll forget what happened.
"Well, I always keep it in the back of my mind," Doughty said. "I know exactly who it was. I'm not going to take any runs at him, but if he's coming down [the ice] I'm not going to shy up on a hit."
The Ducks are eager to make Doughty pay a physical price in this series, because his presence on the blue line is absolutely crucial to the Kings success, especially considering they are down two regulars (Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr) due to injury.
"I know teams are going to target me," said Doughty. "They're going to target other guys on the team too. It's just part of the game. If anything, that makes you hungrier. It makes you want to work harder to avoid those hits and make a difference. When they're targeting you and you're still being successful, that's the most frustrating thing for them."
Anaheim is also doing its best to get Jonathan Quick off his game. Corey Perry crashed into the Los Angeles crease during the second period of Game 2, which led the soft-spoken Kings keeper to give him a shot and take a roughing penalty.
"Some people think you get him off his game by doing those types of things, but you don't," said Kings forward Jarret Stoll. "If anybody knows Quickie, he's a very, very competitive, determined guy in the net and he'll do anything to win and he'll back up his teammates even when we don't want him to sometimes. We don't want him in the scrums, but sometimes he's in there like he was in round one [when he went after big San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton].
"It's no secret: we want to target their best players too. If their best players are the best players in the series then they're going to win the series and we're going to lose. If Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik are the best players in the series, we're probably going to win."
For his part, Darryl Sutter thinks all the targeting talk is a bit much.
"Every game he plays he gets extra attention, but I don't think anyone is going out of their way to hit Drew Doughty," the Kings head coach said. "They're a big, physical team. The reason Drew may get touched more than other guys is he plays half the game. Quite honest, we need some of our other defencemen to get touched that much."
That's just one adjustment the Kings can make. There will be others. Despite stealing the first two games of the series in Anaheim, Sutter and his players are far from content. There are certainly ways they can improve.
"Hopefully lots of ways," Sutter said, "but I'm not going to give you that little secret."
The tight-lipped coach did admit he felt the Kings were lucky to be in such a commanding position in the series.
"We had to use a short bench [in Game 1] because some guys weren't up to standards. We were fortunate to win that game."
One area where the Kings can be better is in dealing with the Anaheim forecheck.
"They're quick. They read off each other really well," Stoll explained. "They're very aggressive. They get two guys down to the goal line very quickly on our defencemen. If we're not going to support our defencemen like we should, we're going to get outmanned and out-supported. The key is to out-support their forecheck in those situations. Come up with the pucks, and get it going the other way. Everybody wants to play in the offensive zone. That's the whole battle. That's the whole series right there."
So there are issues to be addressed, but at the same time there are reasons to believe coming back on the Kings will be a very, very difficult task. The Kings were outshot by the Ducks 37-17 in Game 2, but they have done well to prevent second-chance opportunities.
"Our D have done a really good job of defending," said Doughty. "We maybe haven't been the best at moving the puck or as good as we usually are, but our defending has been really, really good. We're playing physical. We're boxing guys out, getting under sticks, clearing pucks and that's our job in the D zone. When we're doing that, when we're clearing the bodies, Quickie's going to make the first save."
Doughty had a four game point streak snapped on Monday and he has the same number of penalty minutes (two) as shots on net in the series so far. And yet he remains a key reason why the Kings are in such a good spot.
"I thought we controlled him pretty good," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "I don't think he made many rushes [Monday], but he's a smart player and he's very good defensively when he has to be. That's based on the individual. There's not much we can do about the fact we're playing against a good player. I mean, he's good and he's going to make good plays. We try and disrupt him as much as we can, but you're not going to do it all the time."
Doughty believes he is "10 times the player" he was during the 2009-10 season when he racked up a career-high 59 points en route to a Norris Trophy nomination. He says he is much better in his own zone now and all-around more mature.
"I feel I've improved as a player and been a better leader for this team and I've played a lot better. I make a difference in every game."
The other major thorn in Anaheim's side, other than Doughty and Quick, is Anze Kopitar. The Selke Trophy nominee is the leading scorer in the playoffs with 14 points despite being matched up consistently against other team's top players. Kopitar has registered at least one point in all nine of the Kings playoff games this spring.
"When I'm on the ice with Kopi I'm playing completely different," said Doughty. "When I get the puck rather than maybe trying to rush it or something like that, if Kopi's open I'm just giving it to him no matter what and I'm joining the rush.
"When Kopi's there you have full trust in him. He just makes things happen when he has the puck so I figure why not give it to the guy that makes things happen and try and get open for him."
Despite their success, the core players on the Kings aren't about to start feeling too good about themselves despite the current six game win streak. This is a veteran team just two years removed from a championship. And they're way too smart to feel satisfied.
"We know how quickly a series can change," said Doughty. "It just takes one moment sometimes. It can be a fight, just a big goal or anything like that. A series can change so quickly so you got to keep that foot on the gas pedal. We can't let them back in the series.
"We have that killer instinct and we have to show that in the next game. If we let up for any second that [can be] the difference in the game, the difference between winning and losing."
Only a couple weeks ago, the Kings appeared dead in the water after dropping the first three games against the Sharks. They don't want to give the Ducks a chance to author their own comeback story.
"A 2-0 lead is great, but it's not four," Stoll said. "It's not four wins and we know that better than anybody and we also know we haven't played our best hockey to date."