The Kings reach the Stanley Cup Finals
With a week ”off” until the Stanley Cup finals, I find myself letting the mind wander back to what we have seen develop right in front of our eyes. Highs and lows (not a lot of those).
7 weeks ago, almost to the date, the Kings stumpled into the playoffs as 8th seed. After clinching the playoff berth a few days earlier the Kings looked anything but impressive against the San Jose Sharks in the final back-to-back pair of games. Rather than winning the Pacific Division title the Kings fell to 8th in the West and booked a first round date with the Vancouver Canucks. Historically the Kings haven’t had succes in the playoffs. They are not labelled as ”winners”. Going in they are a team of unfulfilled potential, in need of finding a way to get to the next level. You will be hard pressed to find any Kings fans who could honestly claim that they predicted the kind of run that was about to begin.
Despite not being an optimist by nature I did feel down the stretch that ”if” the LA Kings could just get into the playoffs they had the team that could ”do some damage”. But, in my mind, ”doing some damage” meant something like having a chance to win a round if we could just catch a break … it did not mean steamrolling the 3 Western Conference division winners.
What to expect ?
Facing the Vancouver Canucks team that came within one game of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup. Arguably stronger than last year. Basically the same team that the Kings fell short against in 2010. What kind of chance would a ”low-scoring defense-first” LA Kings team have against this powerhouse. Between slim and none according to the pundits and talking heads in the various NHL Studios. The majority of them predicted the Canucks to go back to the finals … ”the low scoring Kings would have to rely heavily on Jonathan Quick to have any kind of chance. Not scoring enough goals was going to be a problem.”
But wait, that wasn’t really a particularly accurate description, was it?
The Canucks down the stretch did not dominate teams. They did not score a lot of goals. They were without Sedin. Watching the Kings down the stretch, post-Sutter coaching impact setting in, post-Carter trade, post Nolan/King call-ups … that was definitely not the team the talking heads talked about. What they were talking about sounded a lot more like the passive Terry Murray version of the Kings we saw in November/December. What we saw down the stretch was a team playing aggressive, assertive, winning big games home and on the road. The big line with Kopi, Brown and Williams was playing their best hockey. The best we’ve seen them play late in a season … ever …
Something was just ”off” with these prognosticators. The more I read and heard about how much better the Canucks were supposed to be, I just could not recognize their reasoning based on what was actually going on with the Kings. The feeling grew - there was a chance.
Instant momentum. Instant confidence
Game 1 – Mike Richards.
The performance Mike Richards produced in game one (so far) goes down as one of the most impressive and important performances I have witnessed. The Kings were the underdog, the Kings were on the road, the big trade acquisition the previous summer. The somewhat disappointing season … but here he comes … what he was brought here for. The playoffs. With a beast-like performance he sent a message to teammates, pundits and Canucks. This Kings team could be more than just a 1-and-out playoff team.
There was a goal. There were 2 assists. But even more than that there was fire and determination that would not be denied. He forced turnovers, he was hitting. He was everything in that game. Leaving everything out on the ice.
Game 2 – Here comes the Dustin Brown monster.
Staring down the barrell of a major push from the Vancouver Canucks to get back in the series once again the Kings found a way. And up steps Dustin Brown. The man who would skate through a brick wall if he had to.
From then on, the Kings never looked back. The Canucks were ousted. It wasn’t just that the Kings eliminated the Canucks, it was the manner in which they did it. The big boys stepped up their game, the goaltending was excellent and there was redemption for a slew of regular season disappointments – Dustin Penner, Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis and the series clincher – Jarret Stoll. This team had something special going on. In a matter of one playoff series the Kings were transformed from a team widely expected to be eliminated quickly to a serious contender.
The brilliant coaching
I dont think we can underestimate the importance of the quietly brilliant Darryll Sutter. Not only did he transform the playing style from Terry ”bend-but-dont-break and homeplate mentality” Murray to a more aggressive puck-hunting team … If we dont have it – go get it! Aggressive forechecking, physical, relentless. But he has also seemingly done an outstanding job to keep the players grounded. This is basically the same roster that have had a tendency to get complacent when things went too well under Terry Murray. Now there is no resting on the past performances. Last round means nothing. Move on, start from scratch at zero-zero. A bunch of points in the first round won’t help you in the second round. Winning 3 games in a series means nothing. Winning one series means nothing. Moving on is the only thing that matters.
He has kept his emotions in check. He is the leader of the team. The team has kept its cool and control when others haven’t. He trusts everyone on the team. He is clear in what he expects of them and holds them accountable, without throwing them under a bus when they misstep.
In Sutter I trust.
Hockey in June
There will be hockey in June involving the Los Angeles Kings. That is pretty hard to fathom. In two weeks time, Kings-fans will either enjoy the greatest possible excitement as a hockey fan – or the ultimate heartbreak.
The New Jersey Devils will be the toughest test yet. They have looked very strong out there in the East. They have gamebreakers of a level we have not faced yet – Kovalchuk and Parise. Looking at their last couple of games they have a wicked powerplay. It is kind of surreal to see Peter Harrold skating around with Kovalchuk, Parise and friends on the first unit. The same Peter Harrold who sat so comfortably and without complaint as the #7 defenseman … back in the days when Randy Jones was in our line-up.
- And it sure would be nice to defeat Illya Kovalchuk in a playoff series after the 2010 debacle. But that will just be icing on the cake when I feel greedy.
It’s been great run so far, from game one to game fourteen. A few moments stand out to me:
- Carters assist on Dustin Penners gamewinner in game 1
- The Dustin Brown hit on Henrik Sedin
- Trevor Lewis’ irresistable hustle to get the puck away from Dan Hamhuis in overtime, leading to the series clincher
- Kopitars leap to celebrate the series clinching empty net vs. St.Louis. Dustin Brown just disappeared.
- The Los Angeles Kings are in the Stanley Cup Finals.
- The hypocritical Coyotes in the Conference Finals.
- The ridiculous statistics that the Kings have had a greater succesrate to score while shorthanded than on the powerplay
- There will be hockey in June involving the Los Angeles Kings
- Not hearing Bob Miller call the plays
Hard pressed maybe but there where some of us who actually believed that we would be where we are today prior to the start of teh playoffs. Now I am not saying that or anyone else I can remember said that we would go on a 12/2 run to get to the finals but there were some of us here who knew that we would get here or at least had a great shot of it.
The particulars have been amazing for certain, I mean Dustin Penners play alone has been astonishing and hard to believe but as for our actually getting here? there where a few posters around here who could read the writing on the wall.
Excellent post though and a great insightful bookmark for where we are today.