If Darryl Sutter and the rest of his squad had it their way, this series would be over. The hockey season would have ended. The cup would be theirs. And L.A. would enjoy being the champions for the first time in franchise history.
But in true hockey, and playoff drama form, things didn’t happen that way.
The Kings, on the cusp of a clean sweep and winning Lord Stanley’s Cup at home, dropped Game 4 — as they had done twice before with a 3-0 lead over top-seeded Vancouver and in the conference finals against Phoenix.
“Game 4 has been somewhat of a problem for you guys,” said a reporter to Sutter following Thursday’s loss. “You’re 3-3 now when you can close out a series.”
Sutter’s reaction was perfect for the far-too-obvious (and slightly idiotic in my journalistic opinion) question posed.
“Awesome,” he said as pounded the table and then continued with blatent sarcasm. “Close out a series in Game 4.”
That was the last question Sutter answered for the night.
But even more questions arose following Game 5’s 2-1 loss in New Jersey when the Devils handed L.A. its first loss on the road in these playoffs, ending their remarkable streak at 10 and closing the gap in the finals with a narrow Kings lead 3-2.
Grantland’s Katie Baker said it best in her post today:
“Had this series taken a different path — had the two teams split the first two home-and-homes, for example, and had the Kings then won Game 5 — the series would still be 3-2, except no one would be asking Los Angeles about whether all of the pressure is on them, or whether they have to do something differently, or whether they can handle the position they’re in. But when you win three in a row, however this close the first two of those wins were, it’s a whole different matter.”
And as more people begin to question whether or not the wheels have fallen of the Kings and their improbable run toward the Stanley Cup, L.A. heads back home “pissed off “ according to Kings’ Justin Williams and looking to seal the game.
A seal that will come with:
There is no question that for the most part, Jonathan Quick has been spot on for the L.A. Kings and is unquestionably the main reason they have pushed themselves into the position that they are in tonight.
Goaltending makes or breaks this game, especially in the Stanley Cup finals that have seen teams succeed and perish with the help from the men between the pipes.
“You can have an average team but a great goaltender and get to the Stanley Cup finals,” former Washington Capitals goalie, Bob Mason, told me last February in an article for USA Hockey Magazine.
“Goaltenders can make or break a team in the playoffs. Just look at last year’s (2010) playoff teams. Philadelphia finished 8th in the conference and [Brian] Boucher and [Michael] Leighton got hot at the right time.”
Eighth in the conference and a push in to the Stanley Cup finals? Sound familiar?
“It’s a position where if you’re playing well and the team is winning, you’re getting more credit. And if you’re losing, you’re taking a little more heat than you deserve,” said Quick for that same USAH Mag article last year.
“It can go either way. You can steal games and you can lose games. It’s quite a bit of pressure and you have to know how to handle it no matter what happens.”
Taking advantage on the man-advantage
For the most part, the finals have been very mild in comparison to the ravage beating the Devils and Rangers handed each other and the all-out brawl between Pittsburgh and Philly.
Up until Game 5’s ruckus at the end of the game, few penalties have been assessed. But when they are, the Kings have to capitalize.
They have struggled on the power-play for a good chunk of this series, finally notching a power=play goal in Game 4, the first in the series for L.A. and with the intensity of tonight’s game, I imagine guys will be tossed in the box and special teams will have to step up to the plate.
The cup will be at the Staples Center tonight. But will it be in the Kings hands after the final period? I say yes. No questions asked.