CHICAGO - With a Stanley Cup and three straight trips to the Western Conference final in their recent history, the Los Angeles Kings aren’t exactly used to losing.
But the Chicago Blackhawks are doing everything in their power to teach them how.
Over the past two seasons the Blackhawks have somehow managed to turn this Pacific Division powerhouse into their own personal whipping post, beating them eight times in their past nine meetings.
They bounced them from last year’s playoffs in five games, swept the regular-season series 3-0 and are up 1-0 in this year’s Western Conference final after Sunday’s 3-1 decision at the United Center.
No offence, Mr. Anschutz, but until your guys prove otherwise, the Blackhawks own the Kings.
“Chicago just comes with its own set of problems,” said Kings winger Justin Williams. “Their defence are extremely fast and active and do a great job of getting the puck up the ice. If we’re just a little off every game they will expose that.”
It’s usually the Kings who do the exposing, they have the rings to prove it. But they admit a game with the Blackhawks can turn into a humbling experience if you give them half a step.
“If you give them time they will make you pay,” said Williams. “They’re very dynamic. We need to have every guy on our team playing the same way and with the same urgency, being on our toes instead of our heels.”
Kings teammate Jarret Stoll refuses to believe there is any sort of psychological barrier that needs to be broken through, here, but admits it takes a near-perfect game to get past a team as skilled, deep, disciplined, tough, poised and experienced as the Blackhawks.
And so far the Kings haven’t been able to break them down.
“The games that I can think of in the past, and even Sunday, they’re dangerous when they’ve had some open ice on the rush,” said Stoll. “Coverage is tough when that kind of skill comes at you.
“But we’ve made adjustments all through the playoffs so far. I think it’s no different here, we have to tighten things up.”
The Kings truly have been a model of calm and resilience in these playoffs. They fell behind 3-0 to San Jose, figured out what was wrong, fixed it and won the series in seven. They lost three in a row to Anaheim before taking Games 6 and 7.
They’ve faced elimination six times already and it didn’t seem to bother them a bit. So being down 1-0 to a team that’s won eight of nine against them isn’t spooking anyone.
“We’re not going to get rattled, we’re not going to get down, we’re not going to turn on each other,” said Stoll.
“Sometimes when you’re going through a playoff series you can easily see cracks in teams and you push and push at them until they’re done.
“With our group I haven’t seen any of that in all the playoff years I’ve been part of with the L.A. Kings. It’s a strong group.”
“We have a lot of guys who’ve been around for a while, been through a lot, been to the finals, won championships,” added Jeff Carter. “If we come out on top we enjoy it and move and if we don’t, we think about it for a while, figure out what we can do better, and move on. It comes pretty easy to us.”
And losing doesn’t, despite how the Hawks make it look.
“The further along you get the tougher the teams are,” said Williams. “And to be the best you have to beat the best.”
And as defending champs, the Hawks are best until the Kings prove otherwise. Or, as Williams put it when asked about the LA-Chicago rivalry:
“Rivalries only exist when both teams win and we haven’t beaten them yet. We need to rise to the challenge.”