SAN JOSE -- Greetings from San Jose, where it appears that both the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks will make changes to their lineups Saturday night at HP Pavilion for Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal playoff series.
The Kings won the first two games of this series at Staples Center, but the Sharks are formidable at home, having lost only two regulation games there this season.
The change contemplated by Kings Coach Darryl Sutter would give rookie left wing Tanner Pearson, the club’s first-round pick and 30th overall in the 2012 entry draft, his first taste of play in the NHL. Pearson spent this season with Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League, where he scored 19 goals and had 47 points in 64 regular-season games and had one assist in the Monarchs’ first-round playoff loss.
In the morning skate Pearson was part of the ever-changing fourth line. If he plays, he would be the 23rd player to appear in a playoff game for the Kings this spring, one more than they used in their Stanley Cup run a year ago.
Sutter said after the skate that he hadn’t decided whether he will go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards — as he did in Games 3 and 4 of the Kings’ first-round series against St. Louis — or six defensemen and 12 forwards.
“If we play with 12 forwards, he’ll play,” Sutter said of Pearson, who was called up from Manchester with a number of other players to be part of the “black aces” practice squad.
Defenseman Alec Martinez, who was minus-3 defensively in the Kings’ 4-3 win in Game 2 on Thursday, likely will come out of the lineup and would be replaced by Keaton Ellerby. Martinez and Matt Greene were the extra defense pair in Saturday's skate.
The Sharks were expected to reinstate winger Martin Havlat, who sustained a groin injury during their first-round sweep of Vancouver. Coach Todd McLellan said Havlat approached him after the Sharks’ morning skate to say he was ready to return, but McLellan hadn’t yet figured out where the veteran will play. He’s likely to go on either the second or third line.
In the Kings’ morning skate, Pearson skated on the fourth line with Colin Fraser at center and Brad Richardson on the right. The third line had a new look, too, with Trevor Lewis moving back to his natural center spot and playing between Dustin Penner and Tyler Toffoli. It appeared that Jordan Nolan would come out of the lineup.
Left wing Kyle Clifford, who has an undisclosed injury, didn’t participate in the morning skate. Center Jarret Stoll, who suffered a suspected concussion as the result of a hit from Raffi Torres in Game 1, stayed in Los Angeles.
Sutter said he didn’t know much about Pearson but knew the 20-year-old had a good season in Manchester, where Toffoli was one of his linemates.
“With Tanner and Tyler and Keaton and all these kids, they earned that right and they get the opportunity and see how they play,” Sutter said. “I think that’s an important part of this, especially this year, the way the schedule has been, it’s certainly helped us a lot. And I think if I was those young guys, I’d like to be given that opportunity if I’d earned the right. That’s sort of how we approached it. I think it’s fun for them.”
It certainly will be memorable for Pearson, a 6-foot, 190-pound winger who played for Team Canada in the 2012 World Junior championships. He said he was surprised to be told a few days ago that he would skate with the regulars, instead of the spare players. He then moved up the depth chart.
“I was coming up to be a black ace, just expecting to skate with them,” Pearson. “I guess anything can happen …. If you had asked me three years ago and said I’d be playing my first NHL game in three years, I would have taken it in a heartbeat, but I probably wouldn’t have believed you. To see it happen so quick, it’s going to be very exciting.”
Fraser had some advice for his new left wing.
“He’s kind of jumping into it feet-first, I think,” Fraser said, smiling. “Just relax, really. It’s no different than any other game. He’s played enough games. He knows what’s going on. Even though it’s not the NHL, nothing really changes. You don’t change your game now. Do what got you here and don’t be nervous and just play.”
Fraser did, jokingly, put a bit of pressure on the rookie. “After he scores tonight, you can come talk to me and I’ll pump his tires,” Fraser said.
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