May 7, 2012
In hindsight, maybe Kings aren't over-achieving
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI AGENCY
The Los Angeles Kings didn't have an 8-1 run at any time in the 82-game regular season, but in back-to-back playoff series against the two most formidable teams in the West, they almost ran the table.
The Kings were the lowest-scoring team to make the playoffs, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the entire NHL, but they lit up the stingy St. Louis Blues, the best defensive team in the league, for 15 goals in four games.
From an afterthought in early April to Cup favourites today, the Kings are clearly in the right place at the right time.
"We're showing our true colours right now," said defenceman Drew Doughty, adding 4-0 and 4-1 series wins over Vancouver and St. Louis say more about his team than the previous 82 games did.
"We really underachieved during the regular season. But now everyone is starting to gel, the D pairs are staying the same, the lines are staying the same. We're just a close-knit group, a six-man unit every time we step on the ice and we're having a ton of fun.
"We knew all along we had the team in here to do it. Right now, we're playing with a ton of confidence. Every single guy is feeling a part of the team, and that's exactly what you need in the playoffs."
After a tepid start to the season, it has all come together. LA's best players -- Dustin Brown, Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jonathan Quick -- are outplaying their counterparts, while foot soldiers like Willie Mitchell, Dwight King and Matt Greene are providing hard, smart, tough minutes. In the four games against St. Louis, Dustin Penner won almost every battle along the boards.
"Right now we have a lot of guys elevating their play," said Brown. "And it's not just one or two, it's multiple guys. It's a mixture of everybody playing well and a lot of guys playing extremely well."
In just nine playoff games, 15 of L.A.'s 18 skaters have a goal.
"We always believed in each other and in ourselves," said Greene, who believes the stress of March and early April prepared them for this.
"We've been playing tight games all year, especially the last 20 games trying to make it into the playoffs. It's been do or die for us for a long time, so we're used to playing these tight games."
It's not the first time a team that needed the whip down the regular season backstretch rode that momentum into the playoffs. The Kings just seem the best and deepest team to do it in a while.
Look at their lineup now, through two rounds of hindsight, and of course they're going deep in the playoffs. Look who they've got.
"It's was an up and down year for this team, a hard year, a lot of adversity," said Brown. "But we've always felt we've had a good team and now we're playing to our capabilities."
The Kings have always had the horses.
People are still referring to them as the surprising Kings because they finished eighth in the Western Conference, but they had 95 points and lost six 1-0 games and 12 games by a 2-1 score. Kick in another goal in half those games and instead of entering the post-season as a forgotten eighth seed, they're in the Presidents' Trophy chase.
In the last weeks of the season, when it started coming together, opponents knew this was no ordinary eighth-place team.
In a city known for being fake, the Kings are for real.
"I think everybody who watched the West when the races were on saw this coming around Game 65," said St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock. "When we left the Staples Center (after Game 75) we all said, 'Man, whoever gets that team in the playoffs has their hands full.' They're a really mature veteran group and they have a great goalie.
"And they test your will."