5 keys to the Kings' rebound
LOS ANGELES -- So if a Kings fan went into a coma in December and woke up Tuesday morning with his team one win away from a Stanley Cup championship, you could imagine the fan's complete shock.
We posed that very scenario to both Mike Richards and Colin Fraser of the Kings on Tuesday, and after they had a good laugh at the framework of our story, they helped fill out our list of five reasons the Kings got off the mat in midseason to find themselves where they are now:
1. Darryl, Darryl, Darryl. The hiring of Darryl Sutter in December cannot be overstated as a factor.
"Obviously, Darryl coming in was an important change," Fraser said. "It wasn't overnight, it's not like we started being lights out right away. It was a gradual [change]."
In fact, when asked Tuesday whether he remembers one single moment when he realized his team could contend for a championship, Sutter said there wasn't just one. Rather, the realization, one by one, that certain players were cluing in.
"From a team standpoint, a lot of individuals had different points, I think, that I knew we had a chance of being a playoff team," Sutter said. "Then once you get in, anything happens, right? That's the way I always looked at it because it was always just the way the conference was. We would go from third to 11th in three or four days. That's the best part of it, because it helps the players understand how close and tight it is, too. So I don't think there was a specific point. But for sure with individuals ... you knew somebody had made that step or turned the switch a little bit."
2. Dustin Brown awakens. True or not, the trade rumors involving the Kings' captain ignited a spark in Brown but also had a galvanizing effect on his team. The Kings fed off the captain's dramatic response and his terrific play since those rumors surfaced in late February.
"I also think all the rumors about Brownie and he comes out and scores three goals and gets four points the first game after the trade deadline, you can't ignore that," said Fraser. "Then we played our best hockey down the stretch."
When your captain is leading the way, it's difficult for players in the dressing room not to want to follow that example. That's what has happened with the Kings.
3. Consistency. It's a cliché but it's also based in the tried and true on championship teams. Consistency was maddeningly fleeting for the Kings over the first two thirds of the regular season, but once they found it in their game, it sparked a major hike in their level of play. Then went from an average team to a contender.
"Throughout the year we've been up and down, had some good games, had some poor games and couldn't really string anything together," said Richards. "Right now we're doing that. We're playing on a consistent basis, which really we should have been doing all year. For whatever reason we weren't, but it's just nice to have that now."
The distinguishing trait of the team's 15-2 playoff record has been its ability to string together very similar efforts, night in and night out, regardless of what's on the line. That's not easy to do, but the Kings have found a way.
4. Playing playoff hockey before the playoffs. The Kings were fighting for their playoff lives down the stretch and essentially were already playing playoff hockey before the playoffs began. That was a huge advantage before puck drop in Vancouver in the opening round.
"I've said to my buddies, we've got the right team, but we just have to get hot at the right time," said Fraser. "The last six weeks of the regular season, we were in a dogfight just to get into the playoffs and we got hot at the right time. We just started rolling."
Sometimes, playing for your lives over a three-month span can be too grueling for some players, but the Kings have used long layoffs between series to their advantage and thrived with their backs against the wall over 13 weeks or so.
"It's a grind, but it gets your game where you need it to be," Fraser said. "So when we roll into Vancouver for Game 1 of the playoffs, we know where we're at and we had already been playing playoff hockey. We won Game 1 in Vancouver and we realized we had become a good team and we could make some noise."
5. The trade and the call-ups. The acquisition of Jeff Carter in late February and the late-season call-ups from AHL Manchester of Jordan Nolan and Dwight King formed the trifecta effect that gave the Kings' lineup the mix and balance it needed. People in the Kings' front office will tell you that until those three players were added to the mix, too many forwards were playing out of their proper roles. Once Carter, Nolan and King were brought in, it helped everyone in the forward group settle into the proper roles. And, suddenly, the Kings began to score goals after having incredible difficulty doing just that all season long.