If the yanking of Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick midway through Game 2 is storyline No. 1 in the Western Conference finals, then the Kings' Mike Richards missing his second consecutive start due to a suspected concussion is storyline 1A … and closing fast.
The big-game, two-way center was out of the lineup again Tuesday night at the Staples Center, still suffering from the aftereffects of a big hit by Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland in the late stages of the series opener.
"He's played in a lot of big games, and I think he's the kind of guy that plays bigger in big games," Kings forward Colin Fraser said. "He's a huge loss. But injuries are part of the game. You never want to see anyone go down."
Just when the defending champs looked like they were back to good health with the return of Jarret Stoll (concussion courtesy of San Jose's Raffi Torres) for the series opener against the Hawks, Richards, the team's leading scorer, is lost for two games ... and counting.
And it's a big loss, especially with the series on the line in L.A..
"Losing Stolly is a big loss … and now Mike," Fraser said "Mike's more offensive, plays on the first unit of the power play and all the PKs, good faceoff guy, obviously a leader.
"It's one of those adversity things this year we didn't have to face last year."
They had no choice but to face it heading into Tuesday's crucial Game 3.
"It's going to be tough, that's it. You have to band together, nobody is going to replace him by himself," defenseman Matt Greene said after the Tuesday morning skate. "Hopefully guys can chip in, get minutes together and give us a game."
One of the guys the Kings need to pick up the pace is Anze Kopitar, who was nearly a point-a-game guy during the regular season but entered Tuesday without a point in this series and only 2 points over his last five games.
"It doesn't change anything for us. We still have to play the same way," Kopitar said. "Do we miss Mike? Of course. He's one of the best players at this time of the year and he's a big asset on our power play, penalty kill, faceoffs -- you name it.
"We definitely miss him but we can't look for him now. We know he's not going to be going and we've just got to do it with what we've got."
Richards, who skated in pregame warmups prior to being scratched for Game 2 at the United Center, wasn't even on the ice during Tuesday's morning skate.
"He's done a little bit every day," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, "but it's the same, no progress."
Even without Richards in the lineup the Hawks were prepared for a battle royale Tuesday.
"It's the playoffs. They'll miss the guys but other guys are going to step up," Michal Handzus said. "We don't look at it that it's going to be easy or anything like that. It's going to be way tougher, I think."