Each and every road to the Finals takes a different path, special and unique in its own right. Each team has faced different adversaries and adversities. Nonetheless, the team grew stronger, wiser and better prepared for the opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. On this journey, different players from each team have had an opportunity to overcome or succumb to their own playoff hardships. But yet again, there still is one more round where these players can continue to fall by the wayside or find a way to rise above. It is important to reflect upon each route and how they got to this position and how that distinctive path has shaped each team, making them more primed to win the Stanley Cup. First, in this two-part series: the Los Angeles Kings.
How They Got Here: The Kings, facing early elimination in the first round, were down three games-to-none to the San Jose Sharks before climbing all the way back, etching their names in NHL history books. MVP of this series was Anze Kopitar, who led by example in scoring four goals and notching three assists over the final four games of that series. However, in order to conquer all of California, there was just one more foe left.
After becoming only the fourth team in NHL history to win a seven-game series after being down 0-3, the Kings had to play a freeway series with cross-town rivals and number one-seed, Anaheim Ducks. Going down 3-2 in the series with the Ducks, the Kings again had to make a comeback. After winning game six at home, the Kings had to attempt to win back-to-back game sevens on the road. This proved to be an easy task, as Los Angeles went on to blowout the home-team, 6-2. Despite game seven, this series was awfully close with the other six games coming down to the final minutes. The “king” in this close series was Marian Gaborik, who racked up six goals and three assists. Also, Kopitar was phenomenal again, scoring one goal with eight assists in the series. Next on the agenda would be the “dynasty”-draped Chicago Blackhawks.
Los Angeles, a team most known for their stellar defense, had to win this series by their offense. After game one, these two teams were putting on an offensive clinic, scoring nearly eight goals combined in every game after. The scoring came quickly and in bunches, but it came from lines and from players not many people expected it to come from. In the Kings wins, defensemen Jake Muzzin, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez had a combined seven goals and eight assists, including Martinez’ game-winning game seven goal in overtime. The line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli were held scoreless in only one game (game six). Other than that, the threesome collected a total of 23 points in the other six games (11 goals, 12 assists).
The streakiness seen from LA through the first two rounds made an appearance again in this series. After they had won three straight, pushing Chicago to the brink of elimination, they lost two straight and the Blackhawks forced yet another game seven. However this time, the Kings were attempting to make history again by becoming the only team in NHL history to survive three consecutive game sevens on their route to the Finals. What made it an even more daunting task to accomplish was that they had to do it all on the road. Nevertheless, the Kings again would make history this postseason by defeating the Hawks 5-4 in overtime, advancing to their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
How They Will Win the Stanley Cup: The only player to have his name not brought up in Conn Smythe and MVP talks for Los Angeles is the man some people thought would be most mentioned: Jonathan Quick. Each series so far has had different players step up in big moments and that still includes Quick. For instance, in game three of the Blackhawks series, Chicago had a chance to go up 3-0 on the Kings in the second period on a two-on-one play. Quick made an incredible save on Brent Seabrook, which in turn swung momentum back in favor of the Kings who went on to win that game. In the San Jose series, after the Sharks had pummeled Quick in the first three games by scoring 17 goals, over the final four games he allowed just five.
Fact is, Jonathan Quick has all the talent in the world to shut down any team on any given night, but his dreadful save percentage from the Blackhawks series (.889) will need to vastly improve if the Kings hope to win a second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Henrik Lundqvist is not Corey Crawford and if the Kings plan on playing an offensive up-tempo series again, even though they are better built to be able to do so, attempting to outscore the Rangers with the ‘King’ in net will not bode well for LA. In order for the Kings to win the Cup this year, they will have to go back to the basics: puck-possession, physical defense and good goaltending. The focal factor in being able to maintain all three of those keys will be none-other-than the man in net, Jonathan Quick.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Part Two @ GuardianLV