Kings use home magic to win again
L.A. can't explain it, but team will take it as it climbs back into series vs. Hawks
LOS ANGELES -- Don't ask the Los Angeles Kings to explain it. They can't. They've tried and they don't get it either.
Their Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde act this postseason and over the past 15 games as a hockey team at home and on the road makes no sense even to them. They'll gladly reap the rewards in the short term, but they realize something will have to give soon if they are to successfully defend the Stanley Cup.
The Kings' 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Staples Center not only cut Chicago's lead in the Western Conference finals to 2-1, but it also gave L.A. its 15th straight win at home. Over the same period of time, however, the Kings have lost 13 of their past 14 road games.
It is a stark contrast to the team that won a record 10 straight road games last postseason while losing three potential series-clinching games at home, which makes this season's disparity that much more puzzling.
"I can't explain to you why we were 10-1 last year [on the road], and I can't explain to you why we're unbeaten at home right now," said Kings center Justin Williams, who scored the game's opening goal. "But we've cut [Chicago's series lead] in half and now it's important for us to even it up, and we're eventually going to have to win one there."
If the Kings had a simple answer for why they've been so successful at home and so dreadful on the road, they would have fixed it by now. They wouldn't have fallen into a 2-0 hole against the St. Louis Blues in the first round, been forced to play a Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks in the next round and once again attempted to come back from a 2-0 hole, this time against Chicago.
"We have a way that we need to play at home, and for whatever reason we do a heck of a good job at home and not as good a job on the road," Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "I wish we could bottle that up and take it on the road."
Just as last season's team got used to stealing games on the road, it seems this year's team has found a way to advance in these playoffs despite winning only one game away from home and scoring just a single goal in all but two of them. The Kings knew their journey of trying to win back-to-back Stanley Cups would not be easy. They knew it hadn't been done in 15 years, and if they were going to break that streak of futility, the road would be a lot bumpier than last year, when they began every series with a 3-0 lead.
"Quite honestly, this is what I expected it to be when we won last year," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "In retrospect, after it was all said and done, I remember talking to guys who won a Cup and they talk about how hard it is. Last year we were playing at a level that few teams have ever played at, and this year we're finding it to be much more difficult."
The Kings knew Tuesday night was essentially a must-win game to give themselves a chance to realistically win the series. Only three NHL teams have ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win a playoff series, and it would be especially hard for a team that has won only one road game in these playoffs to do so.
"We know the stats, the teams that have come back from 3-0. It's not very good," Williams said. "I said before the game, it wasn't a must-win, but it was a must-win. We responded with a great effort, top to bottom, and we got it done."
A big reason the Kings got it done was the play of Williams, who scored the first goal 3:21 into the game and calmed his teammates, who were almost as anxious as the sellout crowd. It was Williams' sixth goal of the playoffs, which is one more than the combined total of his linemates Brown and Anze Kopitar, who have combined for just five goals this postseason.
Williams has already won two Stanley Cups, one with Carolina in 2006 and with the Kings last season, and he said he is just as hungry to win the Stanley Cup now. His play has certainly showed it after scoring two goals in Game 7 against San Jose to get the Kings to the Western Conference finals. Williams has five goals and four assists in four career Game 7s, which might come in handy if the Kings get that far again against Chicago.
"The drive is still there," Williams said. "The drive to play is as late as the hockey season, the last team standing, that's something as a hockey player. It keeps driving me. You want to win another championship. I know everyone in there, in our room, wants to win as well. You don't want to see anyone else raise that Cup over their head but you. It's too frustrating. You don't want to watch it. We're going to do our best to make sure we're the ones."
To be the ones again, the Kings will eventually have to do something they've done only once this postseason. Winning 15 straight home games and having the best home record in the NHL is great, especially when you have home-ice advantage. That, however, is a luxury the Kings don't have against the Presidents' Trophy winners. They'll have to find a way to win one game in Chicago if they want to do something more meaningful than simply extend this series. Then again, they'll also need to extend their home winning streak to do that as well.
"We're going to have to win a game on the road to win this series," Brown said. "We're going to have to find a way to win there, but right now our focus is on Game 4."