Los Angeles Kings must put Game 7 habit behind them

Josh Elliott
LA Kings Game 7

The Los Angeles Kings need to tighten up, because they just set a record they shouldn’t be too excited about.

With their 5-4 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, the Kings became the first NHL team to win three straight Game 7s on the road in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Obviously, the record is a clear indicator this team knows how to win when everything is on the line, but consider the reasons for playing all those Game 7s.

In the first round, they went down three games to none against the San Jose Sharks while getting outscored 17-8. Then Jonathan Quick started playing like his Conn Smythe-winning self and the Kings essentially gutted the Sharks, outscoring them 18-5 over the final four games. An impressive comeback, to be sure, but one that wouldn’t have been necessary if the Kings were dialed in from the outset.

L.A. almost let it all get away again in the second round against the Anaheim Ducks. After winning Games 1 and 2, the Kings lost three straight, albeit in tight contests each time. Again, they clawed back from the brink of elimination to win Game 6 before exploding for a 6-2 victory in Game 7 and advancing to the West final.

And let’s not forget, L.A. could’ve avoided this Game 7, too. The Kings and Hawks are as evenly-matched as it gets, but L.A. had an edge in Game 5, when they led the series 3-1 and led the game 4-3 before the third period. They had the Hawks over a barrel, but they couldn’t find the killer instinct to finish them off. Instead, the Blackhawks tied it up and won in double-OT. Then, they beat the Kings again on Friday to force Game 7.

The Kings are obviously comfortable in Game 7 situations. Just ask ‘Mr. Game 7,’ Justin Williams, whose goal on Sunday tied him with Glenn Anderson for the most scored in Game 7s, and whose assist broke Doug Gilmour’s Game 7 points record. Williams, Marian Gaborik and Mike Richards are all a perfect 7-0 in Game 7s now.

“We’ve battled back so many times this year and so many times in these playoffs,” Williams said after Sunday’s game. “We said, ‘Why not again today?’”

Good for Williams. But there’s a reason people love watching a Game 7: anything can happen, and anyone can win.

Anything and everything happened on Sunday. The puck was unpredictable all night, wobbling and ricocheting around like an air hockey disc. Every goal was a tip-in or a double-bounce or a wild rebound. Brandon Saad scored from an unusual spot, beside the net at the goal line. Jonathan Toews scored off a perfect pass from Patrick Kane’s hockey pants. Marian Gaborik collected a rebound off his own chest and put it behind Corey Crawford. Patrick Sharp bounced the puck off Jake Muzzin for one of his goals, and Jeff Carter beat Crawford by batting the puck in at crossbar-level with the shaft of his stick.

It was a weird, weird night. In one of the weirdest turns, a 3.7-magnitude earthquake hit Los Angeles during the third period, shaking the Kings’ home city some 3,000 kilometers away.

And Jonathan Quick added to the growing “Ballad of the Water Bottle” by briefly holding up a faceoff in overtime before the Kings scored their winner. Quick saw the referee inspecting the faceoff dot, so he slid his water bottle over to help with repairs. It wasn’t necessary, but it bought the Kings a few seconds of rest.

Those few seconds probably had as much impact on the game as the earthquake 3,000 kilometers away, but don’t be surprised if you read stories crediting one, the other, or both with giving the Kings the edge, ridiculous as both notions are.

Now, the Kings will get a few days off before they face the New York Rangers, who also love Game 7.

The Rangers won a back-and-forth seven-game series with the Philadephia Flyers in the first round this year. They also came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the heavily-favoured Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. A year ago, the Rangers beat Washington in Game 7, and two years ago, they edged out both Washington and Ottawa in Game 7s.

So if the Kings think they’re safe waiting until the end to turn on the jets, they might have another thing coming.

The Kings will need to get their work done early in the Stanley Cup final if they want to be successful. Because they may have the highest-scoring player in Game 7 history, but the Rangers have someone equally impressive.

Henrik Lundqvist holds an NHL record with five straight Game 7 wins, and is 5-1 in Game 7s lifetime, with a 1.00 goals-against average, .965 save percentage and one shutout.

The Stanley Cup final will certainly see a royal coronation. But don’t forget: ‘King Henrik’ wants to rule, too.