Kings seek road magic again
If L.A. wants to repeat, scoring needs to increase away from Staples Center
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Normally teams don't admit to having a rooting interest when they're waiting to play a team in the next round of the playoffs. They'll swear that the opponent makes no difference to them.
Some of the Los Angeles Kings were slightly more forthcoming about their viewing habits during Wednesday's Western Conference semifinals Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.
A Detroit win would give the Kings home-ice advantage and a day off between Games 1 and 2, while a Chicago win would see the Western Conference finals open in Chicago with a rare back-to-back because of a Rolling Stones concert at the United Center.
"Every team would like to have home-ice advantage," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said a day after the Blackhawks beat the Red Wings 2-1 in overtime of Game 7 to advance. "That would be silly to think we wouldn't want that, but you're going to have to beat good teams if you're going to go all the way."
The Kings will not only have to beat a "good team" to return to the Stanley Cup final, but they'll have to beat the Presidents' Trophy winners and a team that set an NHL record for earning points in its first 24 games of the season. And to beat the Blackhawks, the Kings will have to win at least one game away from Staples Center, which hasn't been easy for them this postseason.
Including the end of the regular season, the Kings have lost 11 of their past 12 road games. A big reason for that is the Kings have been able to score more than one goal only once in their past eight road games, and not surprisingly that resulted in their one win away from Staples Center since March.
"It's about not passing up plays," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Sometimes I think we get too pretty in our plays. It's about simplifying our play. It's easy to sit there and say it, and it's another thing to do it. At the end of the day if you have an open shot you have to throw it on the goalie. You never know what could happen. You've seen goals throughout the playoffs that probably shouldn't go in, but they find a way in. Especially on the road you have to just throw everything you can at the net and never pass up on a shot."
While the Kings have had a hard time winning on the road, they are in the midst of a franchise-best 14-game home winning streak, and haven't lost at Staples Center in over two months. It's a contrast from last season, when the Kings won a league-record 10 straight road playoff games but lost three potential series-clinching games on home ice.
"We got on that roll last year and we had that confidence going into buildings," Brown said. "This year we haven't been able to score. That's the biggest difference. If we can find a way to get a couple, maybe two or three goals in a row, it will give us a chance to win. The one game we have won on the road we scored three goals, so I think there's a direct correlation in finding a way to get more than one goal and winning on the road."
Despite their recent struggles on the road, the Kings weren't overly concerned about not having home ice against the Blackhawks. They were able to come back from being down 2-0 against the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs before closing out the Blues in six games. In that series, the Kings beat the Blues 3-2 in St. Louis in Game 5. The Kings defeated the Blackhawks 5-4 two months ago in their most recent game in Chicago and also come into the series having won a record five straight playoff series without home-ice advantage, and six straight overall.
"It's quite the opposite of last year where we didn't win much at home and we found ways to win on the road," Brown said. "At the end of the day you have to win on the road and find ways to win on the road. You look at Game 5 in St. Louis as a pivotal game and we found a way to win. We have to do that again."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter doesn't like talking about history much and doesn't think there's much to be made of the Kings being 1-11 in their past 12 road games. The way he sees it, the Kings could just as easily be on a nine-game winning streak on the road if they had a couple of breaks go their way. The Kings' past nine road games have been decided by just one goal, with four of those games being decided after regulation.
"There've been three overtime [road] games in the playoffs," Sutter said. "We've won one, San Jose won one and another one was won by St. Louis in the last minute. What's the difference? Not much."
Sutter, who played eight seasons with the Blackhawks and coached there for three seasons as well, said the old Chicago Stadium was the loudest arena he has ever played and coached in, and called the United Center a "a great environment."
Kings center Colin Fraser began his NHL career in Chicago and won a Stanley Cup there in 2010 before hoisting the Cup again last year with the Kings.
They understand more than most in the Kings' locker room how hard it is to win a game in "The Madhouse on Madison," but everyone on the team understands they'll have to do it at least once if they're going to successfully defend the Stanley Cup.
"You have to win on the road to win the whole thing," Fraser said. "For whatever reason we haven't been as successful this postseason, but it's a new series and it really doesn't matter what we did the first two series. We have to regroup and find a way to win on the road."