Kings show mettle -- and yet need more

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
11:16
PM PT

 
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings have never believed in relying on history as an indicator of future results.

If they did, they would have quickly exited stage right two years ago, when they entered the Stanley Cup playoffs as the eighth seed, qualifying for that spot on the final day of the regular season. Instead, they became the first 8-seed in North American professional sports to win a championship.

If the Kings cared about the odds, they would have folded their tents last year after falling behind 0-2 against the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, they stormed back and won that series in six games.

If the Kings easily crumbled under pressure, they would have found a way to lose in last year’s conference semifinals, when the San Jose Sharks forced a Game 7 after the Kings took a 2-0 series lead. Instead, they held on and advanced to their second consecutive conference final -- and showed why the heart of these Kings should never be questioned.

It would have been easy to forget all of that before Saturday’s 3-0 Los Angeles victory over the Sharks in a game that was supposed to be the Kings’ last of the season, but that could eventually be seen as the turning point for another historic postseason chapter for this group.

Los Angeles didn’t just drop the first three games of its quarterfinal series to the Sharks, it lost the first two games by a 13-5 margin -- and just when the Kings thought they were back in the series on home ice in Los Angeles, the Sharks escaped with 4-3 overtime win.

The last time the Kings dropped the first three games of a playoff series, they were swept in 2000. Only three NHL teams have overcome an 0-3 deficit to come back and win a best-of-seven playoff series. The last time it happened was in 2010, when the Philadelphia Flyers came back to beat the Boston Bruins.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Quick
Damon Tarver/Cal Sport MediaJonathan Quick stopped 30 shots to shut out the Sharks in the playoffs for the fourth time.
That series is more than a footnote in the history books for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who were teammates on that Flyers squad before reuniting in Los Angeles two years later to win a Stanley Cup.

“It’s obviously not the position you want to put yourself in,” Richards said. “We had a pretty resilient group that year. We made the playoffs the last day of the year. We had our backs against the wall, and we knew we were in the same position and battled back. Much like that group, we have a group that’s been together, a resilient group, and we’ve gone through a lot together.

“Just like a couple of years ago when we just got in the playoffs and did something special. Even though it’s not the same year, it’s the same group here. It’s obviously a tough task at hand, but as long as you’re still playing hockey, you still have a chance.”

The calm in the Kings’ dressing room before their 6-3 victory Thursday and again before Saturday's shutout was largely because of the bond that the group has forged after being together for so long.

The Kings have played 43 games in the past three postseasons, most in the NHL, and key players such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty were drafted by the Kings and grew up together. Perhaps the Kings of 2010 and 2011 -- which lost in the quarterfinals to the Vancouver Canucks and the Sharks, respectively -- would have gone silently into the night, but not this group. Not now.

“Our core group is going to have to lead the way,” Doughty said. “We’ve been together for a while, and a lot of us have been together for five-six years. We built that chemistry off the ice, and that’s what keeps us so close together on and off the ice -- we all love each other like brothers and we all want to win so bad. We want to do it for the organization and for each other, and that’s why we believe in ourselves. We believe we can come back because we have that core group that continually tries to push and make our team better.”

Quick, who looked lost in the first two games, looked like his old self Saturday, making 30 saves and shutting out San Jose for the fourth time in his career in the postseason.

“We have Quickie back there, who is solid,” said Kopitar, who, along with Carter and Tyler Toffoli, backed him with goals. “We were able to keep everything to the outside, and we’re confident enough, if they’re finding the puck from the outside, that he’s going to make the save -- and we have to eliminate the second and third chances, which we did.”

There wasn’t much celebration in the nearly empty Kings dressing room after Game 5. Most of the players were already on the team bus by the time the media was let in, and Kings coach Darryl Sutter conducted his shortest news conference of the season -- a painful, 50-second session of one-word answers and pained expressions from Sutter.

It was a demeanor and mindset adopted by his players after the game. They knew coming back from an 0-3 series deficit would be hard, and as good as they've looked the past two games, the Kings are now only halfway toward their goal of actually winning the series. Game 6 is Monday night at Staples Center.

“If anything, it feels more daunting,” Doughty said. “We came this far to get two, and now we need to get two more -- and that puts even more pressure on us because we can smell it, but we can’t ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and going back to Staples is a thing we want to be doing, and so we need to get a win and tie this series up.”

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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