The number eight seed coming into the Western Conference playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings have been nothing short of giant-killers en route to a berth in the Stanley Cup finals, eliminating the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and, most recently, the Phoenix Coyotes.
Through all three of their Western Conference playoff
series, they held series leads of 3-0. They’ve won 12 of their first 14 playoff
games, which includes ousting the top three seeds in the conference: the
Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks, the 109-point St. Louis Blues and
the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes.
Taking their latest series as a sample, let’s have a look
at how one-sided the Western Conference finals were:
-The Kings outscored Phoenix 14-6 in their four wins
-Through the first three games, they trailed for a total
-They outshot the Coyotes 203-132
And that’s just to start. While the series grew closer in
Games 4 and 5, the Kings were hardly ever threatened as they held a 3-0
chokehold after the first three contests.
While that series was extremely one-sided, it’s nothing
new for Los Angeles. They’ve been doing it all playoffs long.
In the first round, the Canucks were down 3-0 before they
even blinked, getting outscored 9-4 through three games while the Blues never
even had a shot as they were outscored 12-5 in their first three games.
All season long, the Kings were known as a stellar
defensive team, so it’s not surprising that opponents are having a tough time
scoring. The Kings allowed 2.07 goals per game, which was the second-fewest in
the NHL. As remarkable as that is, the Kings have actually turned up the heat
in the playoffs.
The Kings have now played 14 playoff games and have
allowed a total of 22 goals. That’s about as stingy as it gets as they’ve
only allowed more than two goals just twice these playoffs. They’ve been even
better of late, allowing just 15 goals in their last 10 games.
And while the defense and goaltending was expected to be
stellar, it’s actually the offense that’s turned the Kings into an unstoppable
The team that had a meek scoring average of just 2.29
goals per game in the regular season (second-lowest in the NHL) has found their
offense. Not only have they “mustered up” a few more goals, they’re actually
the third-highest scoring team this postseason, right behind the Philadelphia
Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, who both experienced quite the shootout series
in Round 1.
The Kings are averaging 2.93 goals per game, which is
nearly an increase by an entire goal over their regular season averages. What’s
incredible is they’ve been even better since the start of the second round as
they’ve scored at least three goals in seven of their last nine games while
averaging 3.2 over that span.
So here’s the $64,000 question: why is this all happening now?
For starters, it has to do with confidence. No team is
playing with more confidence than the Kings – at either end of the ice. They have allowed
just two power play goal since the Vancouver series (on 36 shorthanded
situations) and they’ve been pouring in the shorthanded goals with five in
total. They’re dominating the puck at both ends of the ice, limiting opponents’
scoring chances and moving the puck extremely crisply.
Maybe more importantly, head coach Darryl Sutter is
pushing all of the right buttons. Sutter is known as a coach who really
impresses the fundamentals on his team and they’re really doing great with
that. The Kings are excellent in the faceoff circles, they’re tough to handle
along the boards, they rarely take a stupid penalty, they skate well and they
put plenty of pressure on the opposing blue line. They’ve always had the talent, but Sutter is milking the most out of it.
Here’s a checklist for a good playoff team:
-Two good scoring lines
-Three to four excellent faceoff centers
-A pesky third line that can check, play smart hockey and
chip in offense from time to time
-A good penalty kill
-Smart, physical blue liners
In this regard, the Kings have it all. If it’s not the
Kopitar-Brown-Williams line doing the scoring then it’s the
Richards-Carter-Penner units leading the way. The third line of King-Lewis-Stoll
has been very effective in the playoffs as they’ve combined for 15 points.
Beyond that, we’ve already mentioned the penalty kill, which hasn’t allowed a
power play goal in two rounds and the stellar goaltending.
So, who’s capable of stopping the Kings?
The New York Rangers might seem fit as their defense is
the best left but what’s scary is that the Kings have already swept a team like
that: the St. Louis Blues. No team in the NHL allowed fewer goals this season
than the Blues, and the Kings rocked them in four games. Would they do the same
to the Rangers?
As for the Devils, they seem to be similar but with a
weaker defense (slightly) and a better offense (slightly) than the Rangers. The
one edge they would have is experience in net with Martin Brodeur, but the Kings
haven’t looked like a team that’s overwhelmed by the moment at any point.
On top of that, if the Rangers make the finals, it’s
quite likely they’ll have played significantly more hockey than the Kings, who have
played just 14 games in total compared to the Rangers, who have already played
The Kings already look unstoppable and now they’ll be
rested and ready for the Eastern Conference winner. It definitely doesn’t look
like anyone’s got a chance, but there is an inkling of hope.
Kings are just the fourth team in the last 30 NHL seasons to win 11 of their
first 12 playoff games. The good news is the three previous teams all made it
to the Stanley Cup final, but the bad news is all three of them lost. So as
dominant as the Kings have looked maybe there’s still a shot for the Eastern