Kings sandbagging no more

Blues forward B.J. Crombeen and Kings forward Dwight King fight during Game 2 of their NHL Western...

Blues forward B.J. Crombeen and Kings forward Dwight King fight during Game 2 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal series at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Miss., April 30, 2012. (SARAH CONARD/Reuters)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 PM ET

EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. - The Los Angeles Kings look like the hustler from a local golf course, telling lies and taking money.

You know the type. The guy who points to his 10 handicap, sets up a big cash game, then shoots 70.

Eighth seed? Yeah, right.

The way they've been sandbagging their way through these playoffs, 6-1 so far after toppling the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games and sweeping the first two of the Western Conference semifinal in St. Louis, there aren't many left who still believe the Kings are eighth in anything.

"They took out the No. 1 seed and now they're up 2-0 on us, the No. 2," said St. Louis captain David Backes, on the eve of his club's last chance to try and make a series of this. "This L.A. team is playing as good as anyone, and as a team they're playing better than anyone right now."

Now that hindsight has provided such a clear perspective, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that a team with Jonathan Quick in net, Dustin Brown as captain, Darryl Sutter as coach and only five regulation losses in its last 25 games (17-5-3) is making all this noise in the playoffs.

"All year we've played well in big games," said Mike Richards, who's been leading the emotional charge for L.A. "Every time we've had our back against the wall we've put up our best effort.

"We've always had confidence in our team. We were inconsistent at some points but at big times and in big moments we've always had the urgency to step up and that's what we're doing right now.

"In the big moments and in the big games you always want to play your best and prove to your teammates and yourself that you can play against the best."

The Kings are no ordinary No. 8 seed. If the Blues didn't know it before, they know it now.

"The biggest difference for us is the resolve of our opponent," said St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock. "This opponent has had to be dug in for a long time. They had to go through a really good team to get to this level and they're at 100%. Their commitment is at 100 and we're probably 85. We know now against L.A. that's not good enough -- 85 ain't getting it done. It maybe got it done the last series, but not now."

For a team that squeaked into the playoffs after firing its coach in mid-season, the Kings are barely recognizable now. And it starts, as it starts on all good teams, with their lead dogs. Brown and Anze Kopitar have been better than anyone the Blues have offered up in response.

"They're the head of the snake on our team," said Jeff Carter. "When they go, we go, and they realize that, they've been strong all playoffs long."

Then the Reclamation Line of Carter, Richards and Dustin Penner picks up where the first line left off.

"Everybody is doing a good job of pushing each other to play better," said Richards. "That's when you have a good team, when you're pushing the guy next to you and the next guy is pushing him. That's a good situation to have, trying to bring the best out of each other, pulling each other into the fight and being pulled into the fight by different people."

But an eighth seed? Seriously?

"We've always known what we had," said Jarret Stoll. "We've always known what kind of players we had and what kind of team we could have. We just kept pushing, staying positive, never got too down. You know, you just have to peak at the right time. We've all seen it before with teams that have done well. It's not always the team that wins the Presidents' Trophy that wins the Cup.''

Twitter.com/Sun_Tychkowski

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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