<
>

Kings need triple sevens for jackpot

LOS ANGELES -- There will be a Game 7.

Of course.

Did we expect anything else from the Los Angeles Kings during these Stanley Cup playoffs?

After all, they got this far by winning a Game 7 in San Jose in the Western Conference quarterfinals and a Game 7 in Anaheim in the semifinals. Was there really a doubt that they would eventually have to win a Game 7 in Chicago to get back to the Stanley Cup finals?

Like a slot machine in Las Vegas, their only path to the jackpot this season was triple sevens.

But there's obviously a different feel to Sunday's Game 7 in Chicago. The Kings came back from a 3-0 series deficit to force Game 7 against San Jose and rode that wave of momentum to a 5-1 win. In the next round they came back from losing three straight against Anaheim to force a Game 7 and rode that wave to a 6-2 win.

The Kings go into this Game 7 without any momentum at all. They return to Chicago after blowing two third-period leads and opportunities to clinch the series against a Chicago Blackhawks team that is just as resilient as the Kings are and came back from a 3-1 series deficit last year to beat the Detroit Red Wings.

But if this Game 7 feels different from the previous two from the outside, it certainly didn't seem that way inside the Kings' dressing room after Game 6. Anger and disappointment was quickly replaced with the poise and confidence of a team in a familiar position, expecting a familiar result.

"I'm frustrated, but I'm over it pretty quickly," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "I know we got another game to play, Game 7. We've had two chances to close out this series and we're not going to blow a third one.

"We've been in that spot a few times and we know how to deal with it. We're still a confident group. We know we lost tonight, but we're over it already. We're ready to move on and win a game in the United Center."

When the Kings took a 3-1 series lead after four games, L.A. players continued to talk about playing with the same level of desperation they had when they were down in the previous series. Their two most dominant performances of the series came in their two Game 7 wins on the road. They needed to have that same kind of intensity in closing out the defending Stanley Cup champions.

But playing as if it's an elimination game and actually being in an elimination game are two totally different things, as the Kings have come to realize. Like the procrastinating honor student who does his best work while pulling an all-nighter, the Kings are simply not at their best until they have to be.

"I don't know if we played enough desperate hockey these last two games and I think that's why we lost both of them," Doughty said. "It's about time we get to that type of game that the Kings play."

The Kings would rather not be forced to play do-or-die games in the postseason. In their perfect word, every postseason would be like 2012, when they won the first three games of every series and essentially steamrolled their way to their first Stanley Cup. They played 20 games during the playoff run. The Kings have already played 20 this postseason and will have to win No. 21 if they are to earn a trip to their second Stanley Cup finals in three years. While that team thrived on putting teams away quickly, this year's squad seems to thrive when faced with elimination.

"We play more desperate," Doughty said. "We play like it's the last game of our lives and we want nothing more than to beat this team and be in the Stanley Cup final. I just think we lacked a little bit of that desperation and they had a little more and that's how we lost.

"We're fine. We still feel we could have won this game tonight and we know we can still beat this Chicago Blackhawks team. We also know it's not going to be easy. They're going to have their best game in this Game 7, especially in their home rink. We just got to reset, fly over there tomorrow and just be ready to win a hockey game."

As good as the Kings have been on the road this postseason in Game 7, it's not a predicament they necessarily want to be in. No team has ever won three Game 7s en route to the Stanley Cup finals, let alone three Game 7s on the road. But after coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the opening road, the Kings look at Sunday as another opportunity to rewrite the history books and hit the jackpot.

"We've done it before," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "We're definitely not making it easy on ourselves, but we have a great group with a lot of character in here and we're confident. We would rather not be in this situation but there's nothing else to do but go there and try to win a game. ... We were talking and laughing back there. Shoot, why not? Seven, seven seven; we might as well do that."