Home ice now Kings' calling card
L.A. made it a point to buckle down in its building, and it shows after Game 5 win
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings knew it wouldn't be easy this time around.
History told them that. Opposing teams reminded them of that. And these playoffs have beaten that fact over their head every time they've taken the ice.
They knew they couldn't depend on a record 10-game road winning streak this year if they had any chance of being the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. They couldn't lose three series-clinching games at home and make up for it on the road.
If the Kings were going to do what no team has done in 15 years, they were going to have to develop a home-ice advantage, and that is exactly what they have done.
A 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night not only gave the Kings a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series, but it gave them a team-record 13 straight wins at home and a current league-best seven straight playoff wins at home.
"It's a mentality and it's an attitude," Kings captain Dustin Brown said after the game. "Certain teams have it. We haven't had it here since I've been here. This is the first year we've had that home mentality. If you look at our record last year, and the last few years, we've been road warriors. It's been a big part of our success, but this year we've really buckled down at home and taken care of our building."
The Kings' 25-4-1 record at home this season -- regular season and playoffs combined -- is the best in the NHL and the best home winning percentage the team has ever had.
The team that couldn't lose on the road last season has become the team that can't lose at home this season. The change comes at a perfect time for the Kings, who have home-ice advantage against the Sharks and will have home ice in the Western Conference finals against the Detroit Red Wings if both teams win one more game. The Red Wings are currently up 3-1 in their series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Before their series against the Sharks, the Kings had not had home-ice advantage in a playoff series since 1992. But that didn't stop the Kings from winning a record five straight playoff series without home-ice advantage.
Brown said it was one of the goals of the Kings coming into this season to become a good home team. There was no reason for them not to make Staples Center a tough place for opponents to visit. They have now sold out 65 straight games dating back to last season, and the building is deafening after every goal.
"Sometimes you get a little too fancy at home," Brown said. "It's about simplifying your game and doing the little things that you do on the road. Sometimes you want to run and gun at home and score goals, but for us as a team to be successful, we have to play a certain way. Sometimes it's not exciting, but it gets the job done."
Last season, the Kings seemed to feed off the energy from starting a playoff series on the road. They loved taking it to the home team and quieting the opposing fans. They did it time after time after time in opening each series with a 3-0 lead. This season, it practically has been the complete opposite. The Kings are almost waiting for the first hit instead of looking for the early knockout blow, and it has shown. They have lost four of their five road games this postseason, scoring only one goal per game in those losses. Including the regular season, the Kings have lost 10 of their past 11 games away from Staples Center.
"Starts were big on the road last season," Kings right winger Justin Williams said. "We didn't let any team come at us. We came at them. There was no 'Let's be ready for the first 10 [minutes], because they're really going to come at us.' It was the other way around. We had a lot of push-back early in games and we sustained it in the whole game. Playing in the Shark Tank is a tough place to play, and we need to push back right away."
The Kings aren't the only team enjoying newfound success at home this season. Home teams are winning 68.8 percent of their games during this year's playoffs. The home team hasn't won more than 60 percent of the games in an NHL postseason since 1993. Home-ice advantage over the past three postseasons has been almost nonexistent, and last postseason, home teams won only 45.3 percent of the time.
"I don't know what it is," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the home-ice disparity this season. "I don't know if it has anything to do with the lockout and being comfortable. I don't have an answer for that, but I do know that we're going back to our building."
Even Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who normally doesn't like to admit a difference in playing at home and on the road, acknowledged the disparity Thursday night.
"Obviously," Sutter said. "Up to this point there's been a home-ice advantage."
As much as the Kings are enjoying their home ice this season, they will be looking to reclaim some of their old edge on the road when they return to San Jose on Sunday night with a chance to close out the series.
"Right now, it's just one game," Brown said. "We're going up to San Jose to win. They have a tough building, but it's about the guys in this room doing what's necessary to win the game. We've shown over the years that we can win on the road and now we have the opportunity to move on and that should be motivating enough to get yourself ready."