|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- If there is a team in the NHL that doesn't shrink under the weight of an elimination game, it is certainly the Los Angeles Kings.
And if there's a player who has risen up in those moments, it has to be Drew Doughty.
In 2014, he's a perfect 7-0 in win-or-go-home games between the Sochi Olympics and the first round of the NHL playoffs. And it's no coincidence.
The bigger the stakes, the more Doughty relishes being in the spotlight. He was easily the best defenseman at the Olympics in helping Team Canada capture gold and was very much the best skater on either side when the Kings rallied back from a 3-0 series deficit to stun the San Jose Sharks last round.
The Kings need their superstar defenseman to raise his game once again when they face elimination Wednesday night at Staples Center.
"I love these opportunities, I love the pressure," Doughty said matter-of-factly Tuesday. "I know that going into these situations I'm going to be counted upon, and in order for us to win, I've got to be at the top of my game, so I just look forward to these opportunities. I just want to go out there and play well defensively -- that's always my main thing, shutting down the other team's top line, and then after that, trying to get involved in the offense -- and still don't think I've played my absolute best this series, so I'm going to need to do it at home tomorrow."
Talk is cheap unless you can back up those words, but when it comes to the Kings the past few years, they have indeed backed it up and accumulated the kind of big-game knowledge that is crucial in these moments.
|Drew Doughty has one goal and seven assists in 12 postseason games this spring.|
Between a Stanley Cup championship in 2012, last spring's final-four appearance in a Cup hangover year and this April's monumental comeback versus a very good Sharks team, the Kings have seen it all.
It's why when reading the body language of Doughty or coach Darryl Sutter on Tuesday, you didn't sense any kind of trepidation with their season possibly on the brink. The coach and the superstar spoke confidently without sounding cocky, knowingly without being disrespectful of a Ducks team that's very much deserving of its 3-2 series lead.
They been here, done that.
"Yeah, you know what, I think I've been through it more than any of them," Sutter said. "At the end of the day, there's probably not many coaches that have been in as many [elimination] games, so that's something I'm comfortable with."
But just how comfortable can you get having your backs against the wall?
"I'd rather be playing a Game 6 in May than be playing Game 82 on the 15th of April and saying, 'Oh, I can't wait to watch the playoffs,'" said Sutter. "Teams are close, and as a coach, you go in expecting to win every game. If you don't, you shouldn't be in this league. And we've been down that road. We go in expecting to win every game. Obviously, that doesn't happen, or someone would go 82-0 and someone would go 16-0.
"But if you have that mindset, it's a good one to have."
Quite honest, to borrow a Sutter-ism, the Kings were fortunate to be up 2-0 in this series, tying Game 1 with seven seconds left, outshot 37-17 in Game 2, but still coming up aces. They ran out of breaks in the next three games.
"We haven't played our best hockey," star winger Marian Gaborik conceded Tuesday.
"I don't think we have played our best game yet," echoed blueliner Jake Muzzin. "We can put a full 60 together. At spurts we have been good, but we have to put a full 60 together. If we are at our best, we can do that and we'll be OK."
A full 60 would mean eliminating those brain-cramp stretches of the game in which the Kings have not looked like the Kings, coughing up the puck, giving Anaheim outnumbered chances.
"I think if we limit the turnovers, and if we play like we did in the third period, with a lot of poise and urgency, and keep getting to [John] Gibson, getting shots through, finding rebounds, fighting for the puck, that would be a good way to start," said Gaborik, who leads the NHL playoffs with eight goals.
Well, since Gaborik mentioned John Gibson, what of the Ducks rookie goalie? All he's done is stop 69 of the 72 shots he's faced in his two starts. The first star in Game 4, the second star in Game 5.
Are the Kings getting a little tired of hearing about the young phenom?
"Well I mean, kind of. Kind of, yes," Gaborik said.
Doughty said he wasn't bothered by all the Gibson talk.
"We know we can beat him," said Doughty. "We know he's a very good goalie -- at the same time, they're good shot-blockers, which means that at times they're screening him, so we just need to get pucks by those guys. We got a lot of shots last night, he made some big saves, but at the same time, we haven't done everything we can. We can get more bodies in front of him, tips, some more rebounds.
"As good as he is, he's not impossible to beat. I'd take Quickie over him any day, still."
Jonathan Quick became harder to beat as the series against the Sharks stretched on. He was downright awesome in the opening two games at Honda Center but has since been human.
Again, just based on past practice, you know there's a chance he delivers a gem Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The real concern, perhaps, is just how much energy the Kings are spending to extend their season each round. Seven versus the Sharks, and it's going to take seven to get past Anaheim. What's left in the tank?
"It is a grind, but it's the whole playoffs, you don't have one team dominating in the whole playoffs," reasoned Gaborik. "They are very even series out there. We knew that would be the case, that this series would be tight. The key will be to start well tomorrow and hopefully get a lead and go from there."
The team scoring first is 5-0 in this series. With two teams that play a very similar style, the first goal has allowed that team to set the tone. Playing catch-up hasn't suited either team very well.
So much focus on what the Kings have done wrong of late, it's easy to forget that the Ducks have something to do with that, particularly the way their four-line forecheck has created those L.A. turnovers.
"The Ducks have played well against us, obviously, they've played really well," said Doughty. "All four of their lines are very good and they were all dominant in yesterday's game, so I think a lot of it is them. But at the same time, we can control what we do, and we're not doing it to the best of our ability, whether it's individually or as a team, and I think that in order to win, we need to play as a team."