Los Angeles Hockey: Vancouver

Kings know it's not easy to close

April, 18, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- While many Los Angeles sports fans were eagerly hopping aboard a suddenly overflowing Los Angeles Kings bandwagon this week, Kings coach Darryl Sutter cautioned his team and the media to settle down. The Kings’ franchise-first 3-0 series lead on the Vancouver Canucks was nice but ultimately meaningless without another win.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Sutter said. “You don’t get anything for winning three games.”

Now, Sutter is generally viewed as a curmudgeon and his scowl on the bench is legendary in every city he has coached and played in during his 19 years in the NHL, but he has been around the game long enough to know that series leads, no matter how big or small, can quickly turn into series losses if you think it’s over before it is.

Following the Canucks’ 3-1 win over the Kings in Game 4, this series is far from over with two of the next three games slated for Vancouver and the Canucks now playing with Daniel Sedin, who returned to the ice Wednesday for the first time in nearly four weeks after dealing with a concussion.

“We have nothing to lose,” Sedin said. “It’s pretty easy to play hockey when you have nothing to lose. You see that every year in the NHL. Teams you thought were out start winning. You can just relax and have fun, and we did that tonight. It’s tough in the playoffs to do that, but we’re in a position now where L.A. has all the pressure and we just have to go out and play hockey.”

That odd philosophical change in the series took place the moment the Kings, the No. 8 seed, took a 3-0 series lead on the No. 1 seed Canucks, who finished with the best record in the NHL and were on the brink of being the first Presidents’ Cup trophy winners to be swept in the first round.

Sutter stressed to his team before Wednesday night's game the difference between a close-out game and the first three games of the series, in which the Kings’ toughness, aggressiveness and carefree attitude propelled them to three straight wins over Vancouver. If the Kings’ players had sneaked a peek at the closing moments of the playoff game before them on television, they would have seen how different it really is. On the brink of being swept, the Pittsburgh Penguins demolished the Philadelphia Flyers 10-3 in a game that was so lopsided “#mercyrule” was trending on Twitter.

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Kings change the hockey culture in L.A.

April, 15, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- Recent results would indicate Staples Center has been far from an intimidating place for the Los Angeles Kings’ opponents in the postseason.

After winning the first two games of their playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, the Kings had surprisingly won four straight playoff games on the road, dating back to last season, for the first time in franchise history. The true test for this team, however, was always going to be at home, where they had lost their previous five postseason games at Staples Center.

Those dreary numbers fed into every negative stereotype about Los Angeles not being a good hockey town.

Maybe the Kings’ 1-0 win over the Canucks on Sunday to a take a 3-0 series lead will go a long way in changing that perception and establishing Los Angeles as a hockey town on the rise. After all, in the past it had been nothing more than a city that had given opponents home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

The Kings hadn’t just been dreadful at home in the postseason the past two seasons; they allowed the Canucks and San Jose Sharks to clinch their past two playoff series over them in Los Angeles. They held leads in both of those games but lost them and both series in six.

If this year, this series, was going to be different, a lot of things had to change, primarily the results. But the atmosphere at Staples Center was never one of them.

Anyone who has been to a Kings playoff game at Staples Center will tell you it's where stereotypes about West Coast hockey go to die. It is unlike any other sports event in Los Angeles. Whereas fans arrive two minutes into the game when the Los Angeles Lakers play, they arrive two hours before the game to see the Kings.

Three hours before the Kings played the Canucks on Sunday afternoon, the L.A. Live plaza across the street from Staples Center was filled with fans playing street hockey, drinking in makeshift beer gardens and dancing in the closed off Chick Hearn Court, the street that separates the two.

Inside Staples Center, most of the 18,352 fans wore black and waved white rally towels as pyrotechnics and rock music welcomed the Kings to the ice in a scene straight out of an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. By comparison, Lakers games seem like an afternoon at the library.

The fans cheered every Jonathan Quick save, jeered every Canucks dive and absolutely lost it when Kings captain Dustin Brown scored what would be the game-winning goal with in the third period to give the Kings their first-ever 3-0 series lead. A second straight home win on Wednesday would give the Kings their first-ever playoff sweep and first playoff series win since 2001.

Before Sunday’s game against Vancouver, the Kings didn’t shy away from the topic of their difficulty winning at home during the playoffs. In fact it was the central theme of many conversations in the locker room.

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Dave Joseph of 710 ESPN Radio discusses the highs and lows from the Kings' 3-1 loss Saturday against visiting Vancouver.