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KopiStar: Spotlight in Hollywood Reminding Us Anze is Among NHL's Elite

Written by Brian McCormack on .

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For anyone who thought Jonathan Quick overtaking Henrik Lundqvist for the Vezina Trophy was absurd, think a little harder now.

For anyone who thought Dustin Brown was a movable asset at the deadline for the LA Kings, give it some thought.

If you're a Flyers fan (or GM) who thought that Jeff Carter and Mike Richards lacked the discipline and leadership to win a Stanley Cup, don't watch the likely short remainder of this series.

The spotlight is shining brightly on Hollywood's hockey scene, a moment that was fast approaching when Dustin Brown donned the 'C' the first time, when Drew Doughty pulled a Kings sweater over his head on stage in Ottawa in 2008, when even a rising phenom in Jonathan Bernier couldn't unseat Quick. The acquisitions of Richards and Carter only made that spotlight warmer.

And in that bright light, finally flooding a stage with one of the league's more talented casts, Anze Kopitar is reminding us that he truly is one of hockey's leading men.

Anze Kopitar had another solid season in Los Angeles, leading the Kings in scoring with 76 points in 82 games, despite playing for a team that ranked 29th in offense. He has raised his level once again this post-season, his 18 points leading all playoff scorers.

But Kopitar has saved his best for the Stanley Cup final, with two goals and an assist to push the Kings within one game of their first Stanley Cup.

Kopitar ended an action-packed overtime in Game 1 after a terrific play along the boards by Justin Williams, coupled with an awful decision by Bryce Salvador. Williams forwarded a Drew Doughty pass into the soft area of the neutral zone, where Koptiar's speed and patience took over to give the Kings an all-important Game 1 victory.

In a playoff where the Kings have gotten outstanding contributions across the board (Who could tell us who Dwight King was before April?), Kopitar has been a model of consistency, and was at his absolute best in Game 3 on Monday night.

Kopitar's chemistry with line-mates Justin Williams and Dustin Brown was on full display late in the second, when Kopitar's board-to-board neutral zone pass led Williams into the offensive zone. A quick drop pass to Brown gave him all the time necessary to find Kopitar streaking to the back post for a tap in that gave the Kings a two goal cushion, not long after killing the fourth of five penalties on a night where the LA penalty kill may have decided the series.

Not only was the goal an example of Kopitar's speed or the feel between Williams and Brown, but of Kopitar's strength. After sending the puck for Williams, Kopitar bumped with Devils' captain Zach Parise, before a quick burst of speed gained him the separation to beat the Devil's best two-way forward to the front of the net and give the studio audience a reason to "Applaud."

This was the story of Game 3. The Devils were indecisive on the power play, stifled in the corners, and when they were able to find the front of the net, they met a goalie that, unlike Henrik Lundqvist in the previous round, they seem to have absolutely no answers for.

But the Kings won the battles that mattered most. Mike Richards won the blue line war with Marek Zidlicky at what would become the end of a memorable 5-on-3 performance. Dwight King and Alec Martinez won the battles at the front of the net to give the Kings the only goal they would need.

And Kopitar won just about every battle the entire night, to the front of the net to score, rag-dolling David Clarkson in the defensive zone in the first period, brilliant on the powerplay in the third period. Kopitar was without argument the second-best player on the ice tonight, topped only by Jonathan Quick.

Except for a magical run in the sun on Wayne Gretzky's shoulders, June has not been a month of silver and black in Hollywood. Rather, the playoff games have revolved around Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and a Staples Center rather empty and lethargic until five minutes into every quarter, when the fans managed to find their seats.

Monday the Staples Center was raucous, hopeful, determined. And it was hours before puck drop.

We need not forget how hockey was resurrected in Chicago, a team dreadful for ages that had been forgotten by its own city and that was saved by impeccable drafting and a Stanley Cup run facilitated by those youngsters and the proper veteran additions. Do these Kings look that different?

LA is not a city that shunned the Kings, but is perhaps learning just how special this group is, that this is the hockey we should have seen from this talented roster since November and they have broken through at the best time, and that there may be a new team in town to adore, to idolize, and to expect greatness from.

For the past few weeks, the NHL was intrigued with the matchup between Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik, two players of similar expectations in their most significant playoff runs, one-on-one. Now, Anze Kopitar has shown us how foolish we all were to ignore that in these playoffs, he has surpassed them both. Kopitar has been brilliant in all situations, has brought his best when the Kings needed it most, and has had the ability to change the flow of games by himself.

Gaborik had not been able to do so, a was well chronicled, And it is debatable to argue that the Devils have relied on Ilya Kovalchuk more in this post-season to reach their present heights, despite his production, than say, one Ryan Carter. The Kings have been solid across the board, and most noticeably in net, but Kopitar has been electric and has taught us all that he is amongst the most important staples to a Stanley Cup, and a deserving nominee in any discussion the Academy will hold for a Conn Smythe Trophy.

So if you're home and looking for a night out on Wednesday, grab your friends and head to a big screen to see Anze Kopitar in the performance of a life-time. The city of Los Angeles gives it two big thumbs up.

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