EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- He has the beard of a hockey player residing in the first round of the playoffs, not one of a man living for months in the mountains.
Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter offered a take on the attitude -- and, well, altitude -- of a now-compelling playoff series between the Kings and the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
"Yeah, we're halfway there. Halfway up the mountain," Carter said Sunday afternoon at the Kings' practice facility in El Segundo.
Game 6 is Monday night at Staples Center with the Sharks holding a three-games-to-two series lead. The Kings didn't manage to clear base camp until Game 4, having dropped the first three games to San Jose. They fought off elimination again Saturday with a 3-0 victory over the Sharks in San Jose, their first playoff win at that arena since 2011.
"I think we're still climbing. Tomorrow is going to be huge," said Kings forward Tyler Toffoli, who has scored in the last two games.
It may have looked as though the Kings suddenly realized they are mostly the same team that put together a combined 25 playoff wins in 2012 and 2013. But it goes beyond self-belief, a distinguished playoff pedigree and the mid-course corrections by Kings coach Darryl Sutter.
Youngsters Tanner Pearson and Toffoli, albeit on a much smaller sample size, are giving the Kings a version of the playoff boost that Dwight King and Jordan Nolan provided in 2012.
They've been on the second line with Carter and the kids combined for the Kings' first goal in Game 5, by Toffoli. Toffoli had the game-winning goal on Thursday and Pearson has been in the lineup the last three games after being a healthy scratch the first two.
"When they're out there and when they're on their game, you see what they can do," Carter said. "I thought they were both great last night, using their speed, getting on pucks and when they have the puck, they're pretty dangerous.
"For myself, it's pretty exciting to play with them because they bring a lot of energy to the game and pull me around the ice."
Pearson's breakout speed paved the way for Toffoli's goal.
"I think, especially my last stint here, I've felt my game and really comfortable playing here," Pearson said. "I'm not afraid to make mistakes. One of my assets is my speed, and I want to try to use that to my advantage."
Sutter isn't overly generous with praise when it comes to the rookies, but he made an exception with Toffoli. Maybe it had to do with Sutter's good mood: He started the media session Sunday by going behind a TV camera and posing some questions, in fun.
Toffoli didn't begin the regular season with the Kings because of salary-cap issues but went to the minors in "the right frame of mind," Sutter said. He had 12 goals and 29 points in 62 games in the regular season.
"He still maximizes his skill set, which is what you try to do with everybody," Sutter said. "Ninety-five percent of the time is when he does. He's the reason why we're not not playing.
"He's played really well. The right wing position, the first part of the series, he's been our best right winger, that's for sure."
The series started with questions about the health of the Kings' top defenseman, Drew Doughty, who injured his shoulder near the end of the regular season. And now, near the end of the series, the Sharks are facing injury concerns about their top defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Vlasic left Game 5 near the end of the first period after getting hit into the boards by Kings center Jarret Stoll. It appeared to be a head injury, but officially, the Sharks were calling it an upper-body injury. He did not practice on Sunday and looks questionable for Game 6.
Sutter said that the Kings have had their share of injuries and spoke about a juggling act about availability, right up until game time.
"We've got enough guys banged up," Sutter said. "I couldn't care less about their players. I mean, we went through it the whole series, quite honest. So they're talking about one guy now.
"If he's in, he's in. If he's not, he's not."
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