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Optional skates aren't optional for Kings' Ryan Smyth

April 21, 2011 |  1:11 pm

The morning skate Thursday before Game 4 of the Kings’ playoff series against the San Jose Sharks was an optional session, as most morning skates have been for the Kings since about midseason.

But like most of those sessions, 35-year-old winger Ryan Smyth was on the ice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo on Thursday. And like always, he spent a good deal of time practicing tips and redirections in front of the net, where he has earned his living.

He skates on game days because it’s a ritual, to an extent. But it's also because he remains determined to do whatever it takes to contribute to a team that will need top-notch efforts from every player to tie this playoff series at two games each and erase the stench of having squandered a four-goal lead Tuesday in a 6-5 overtime loss.

“You do respect it, absolutely,” Coach Terry Murray said of Smyth’s diligence. “There are times I wish that he would take the day off…. A rested player is the best player, in my mind, but he’s one of those guys that’s got his habits and his routine, little superstition probably. Feels he has to do it.

“Sometimes they say, ‘If I get a sweat on in the morning, food tastes better at lunchtime. Get a little better nap in the afternoon.’”

Smyth, tied with three other Kings for second in team scoring with a goal and three points in three games, said he simply feels better when he skates the day of a game.

“I don’t know where it all got started, the morning skates and stuff. Just get the cobwebs out, so to speak. I’m up anyways with the kids,” said Smyth, the father of three young children.

“It’s fun. You can work on different things out there. You enjoy these moments.”

And it’s free ice time, an attraction to every hockey player.

“I can work on little things, doing little things to make you better,” he said. “I do my tips usually in the morning skates just to get the hand-eye coordination going too.”

Smyth said he told younger teammates after Tuesday’s devastating loss that they couldn’t dwell on it, that no matter how tough it was emotionally to give up so big a lead it was still only one game lost, not a series lost. The Sharks lead, two games to one, entering Thursday's game at Staples Center.

“I told them more or less, ‘Put it behind you. It’s a seven-game series. You’ve got to win four. They’ve only won two,’” he said. “We would have loved to close those games out, no question, but let’s just carry forth.”

If the Kings get a lead Thursday night, he said, they won’t let it slip away.

“It’s a sense of redeeming from what we did,” he said. “We’re a good defensive hockey team, but once we start slipping away from those things, things start to change. I believe this playoff stuff is more about momentum.

“We’ll take a lesson from that and close things out next time.”

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-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Ryan Smyth celebrates after scoring past San Jose goaltender Antero Niittymaki on Tuesday night. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters