- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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NEW YORK -- Darryl Sutter reminded us the other day when discussing the marathon-like pace of the playoffs, especially taxing of late, that his Los Angeles Kings aren't robots.
Three straight series that went seven games, now three straight overtime games, that's going to affect any team.
And it's showed of late, with the Kings making the kind of mental mistakes not normally associated with this team -- bountiful turnovers and slow starts nearly costing them in each game to start the Cup finals.
But they are the comeback Kings and have dug deep time and time again to get out of trouble.
Just how much longer can they do it?
Sure, there's some pride in finding the record book by being the first team in NHL history to win three straight playoff games while trailing 2-0 in each. But it's not something that's comfortable by any means.
"I would have to say no," Kings winger Justin Williams said Sunday evening after the team arrived in New York. "We're not proud of the way we've started games, and we find ourselves in the same situation regurgitating the same mumbo jumbo every time. We're in a results-oriented league, and the results are we're up 2-0. I don't care how we got here."
The cross-country flight can't have helped either. With Game 3 going Monday night at Madison Square Garden there was barely time for a fatigued Kings team to catch its breath.
"I think on the days off is where you take care of a lot of the physical fatigue, get as much liquids into you as possible and take a step back and relax a little bit," Kings winger Dwight King said.
"Guys are getting their rest," added Williams. "It was an early game [Saturday], you got to bed at a decent hour and you should've seen the plane ride over here -- it was all lights out and guys were sleeping, so we're rested. We'll be fine. It's the Cup finals, there's no excuse for not being ready or not being prepared or being tired. You can get yourself ready."
There's no denying the mental strength of this team. They've played the most playoff games of any team in the NHL over the past three years (61 and counting) and with that has come the confidence of dealing with pressure situations and adversity. They have clearly and abundantly showed that over and over again in these playoffs.
But we ask again, can they overcome the fatigue factor? Three straight overtime games for a team that has played a league-high 23 playoff games.
"I've played in some long overtime games but obviously three in a row, it's pretty tough," said star winger Marian Gaborik, who plays at MSG for the first time Monday night since being traded by the Rangers to Columbus in 2013, then dealt to Los Angeles at the 2014 trade deadline. "But we're all in this together. We're leading two games to none right now. That's huge, obviously. We have to correct a lot of things in our game. But yes, it's a tough sport to begin with and to play this many periods the last three games, it's a lot of hockey. But everyone will find the energy tomorrow and we'll be ready to go."
Sutter said Sunday that a team's best defense against the mental and physical grind of the playoffs is depth. Good depth.
"Depth only matters when you win," Sutter said. "You need depth when you get to overtime games and games after overtime games. We've managed to do that. We've moved guys around. Obviously guys get banged up and things like that. But that is your biggest issue always in a series. It's not just playing guys, it's getting the quality, getting good minutes out of them."
Because Sutter has so much trust in so many different players in his lineup, he hasn't had to overplay his top players. Sure, at the end of the day Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar are going to play a lot. But because he's got four centers he trusts, because he has three defense pairs he trusts, all those minutes played in these playoffs have been spread across the lineup and that's the greatest defense to the compounding effect of all these games.
And it certainly doesn't hurt when you keep pulling off comeback after comeback, whether it's in a series or a game, it builds the kind of belief that's hard to come by in most NHL dressing rooms.
"It comes from experience," Williams said. "It comes from looking around the dressing room. I look at faces when I look around dressing rooms when we're down a goal and you can read a lot [about] what someone's thinking by just looking at their face. Between the second and third last night, I looked around and I didn't see anyone scared. I saw a prepared team that knew what they had to do."
The will is there, so is the know-how. But the biggest test for the Kings as the Cup finals shifts to New York this week is whether their legs will allow them to carry out two more victories.
"Every series, every game, every year you play in the league you go through experiences that ultimately will help you in certain situations," Williams said. "And I feel together as a team we've been through almost all of them you can imagine, and we've pulled through. So when we're down, do we feel comfortable? No, we don't feel comfortable. But we feel like we're able to come back. And belief is a very underrated attribute, and we have that going on within our team right now."
14dScott Burnside and Craig Custance