LOS ANGELES – This is what the Los Angeles Kings are. They’re the guy in the office who just sits in the corner doing his work while everyone around him is losing their minds because they’re on a tight deadline. They’re the guys who work on the bomb squad. They’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. They’re not the God, but they’re a god.
Or maybe they’re just hockey’s version of a duck, not to be confused with the Ducks. They play across town, or at least they did until the Kings beat them out. Perhaps they’re fooling us by gliding over the surface the way they do. Maybe they’re kicking around like nobody’s business under the water where nobody can see them.
The Kings are ahead 2-0 in the Stanley Cup final because they’re playing like the champions they are. Have they been perfect? Not even close. But they have this identity, the Kings do. They play the same way, using the same template, whether they’re down two goals in a game, as they have been in four of their past five playoff games, or up by two goals. They play the same way whether they’re up two games in a series or down three.
Next time you’re watching a game involving the Kings, look at their bench during the game. If you didn’t already know the score, you’d have no idea whether the Kings were winning, losing or tied. Yes, they keep playing with fire, but they’re also wearing fire retardant suits. They can’t explain the reason why they get down, as they did by two goals before vanquishing the Rangers 5-4 in overtime of Game 2 of the final, but they can explain why they keep coming back.
Because instead of running all over the ice and lacking structure and having guys pinching and taking all sorts of offensive chances, the Kings just keep coming at you until you break down. Then they pounce.
“It’s one of those things, we’re down 2-0, we’re down 4-2…we’ve been down a lot in the playoffs and we’re not focused on tying the game or winning the game,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who scored at 10:26 of the second overtime period to seal the win. “We’re focused on our next shift. You know what, that next shift might be a defensive zone shift where you need to grind it out. We don’t try to tie the game in one shift or come back in one shift, we just play our game.”
The Kings really are doing something remarkable here, though. Since the start of Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings have played a total of 362 minutes and 53 seconds of hockey, which is the equivalent of just over six games. They’ve played with a lead for exactly 17:51 in that time. Two years ago when the Kings won the Stanley Cup for the first time and goalie Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy, they did not play a single game in which they had given up four or more goals. Game 2 of the final marked the eighth time in these playoffs that had happened.
If you look at the results, you might get the impression that the Kings are on some sort of wild rollercoaster of a playoff run here. Three seven-game series, a comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the first round, five straight games in which they’ve trailed by two goals, two overtime victories in the Stanley Cup final.
But the opposite is actually true. The Kings are the ones coming out on the winning end all the time because they’re the ones with ice in their veins. This team doesn’t care about winning division championships because it knows the wheat separates itself from the chaff by how teams play in the playoffs. The Anaheim Ducks will have a lovely little ceremony next season when they raise the banner commemorating their Pacific Division regular season title. The Kings, if they can grind out two more wins, will be raising another Stanley Cup banner around the same time.
And it’s the same approach they take in games. Anybody can come out flying in the first 20 minutes, but it takes a truly special group to stick with the game plan and have enough confidence it will produce a victory, even when things are looking grim.
Which is kind of why I’m not sure I’m going to buy the Kings malarkey about being so concerned about the way they’ve been starting games. It’s almost beginning to sound like a company line. Take Jarret Stoll for example. He said, “I guess you look at the results, but we shouldn’t because it’s the way we play. Are we playing good or are we not? Right now we’re doing a lot of things that aren’t in our game, haven’t been in our game for years here. We’re getting away with it I think right now.”
They are indeed. And the way this series is unfolding, there’s no compelling evidence, yet at least, to suggest they can’t keep getting away with it. The Rangers failed to make them pay in Games 1 and 2 and it will be a short series if they can’t now that it’s shifting to Madison Square Garden.
THN’s Three Stars
Justin Williams, Los Angeles: Had his bad moments, but picked up three assists to move into a tie for second place in playoff scoring.
Mats Zuccarello, New York: Scored a goal and an assist and was a dangerous player all night with his speed.
Rick Nash, New York: Didn’t show up on the scoresheet, again, but had eight shots and five hits and made a number of really good plays in the defensive zone.