Six days ago, the Los Angeles Kings were down. Way down.Oh, maybe not literally, as they were still very much in the playoff race. However, they had just lost a crushing home game against the Vancouver Canucks, a game in which they were thoroughly outshot, outskated and outplayed. Despite having a chance to steal two points as the third period began, Los Angeles was outshot 16-6 in the frame and gave up three goals — two with their net wide open as they desperately attempted to even up the score — to lose going away, 4-1.
“The bottom line is that you can’t win with one goal,” lamented Kings right-winger Marian Gaborik. “We had a lot of chances to put the game away but we just didn’t capitalize. We need to work on this. Gong on the road, we need to score more goals — that’s the bottom line — without sacrificing our defense. We need to play the right way.”
With the loss, the Kings had dropped back-to-back games and remained on the outside of a playoff spot with time running out. Even worse, they were about to embark on a make-or-break five game road trip. Frying pan, meet fire.
The Kings had road woes most of the year
For most of this season, the Kings haven’t been a good road team — and that’s putting it mildly. Before the current road trip began, their record away from the Staples Center was an abysmal 12-14-7, and that was after L.A. had won seven of their previous ten road games.
And yet, the Kings are historically a fast-finishing club, a team that plays its best hockey in the final months of the season and the postseason. That’s held true so far this year, as Los Angeles is 15-8-2 since February 1st.
“The focus is not going to be any different than it was leading into this road trip,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Times). “Everybody is fighting for a playoff spot. We might lose that playoff spot tomorrow. We’ve got to keep pace and keep winning games.”
The Kings started playing ‘the right way’L.A. kicked off the current road trip with a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Noteworthy in that game was the club’s utter turnaround from the Vancouver debacle. It was the Kings outshooting, outskating and outplaying the opponent, not the other way around.
“We were protecting the puck well while we were playing in their zone,” said Kopitar. “And we were creating chances. I thought we’re doing all the right things that we said just before that period and then we drifted away, just a tad in the second period. And did it again in the third period, which is important.”
Los Angeles blasts the Rangers
Next up were the New York Rangers, leaders of the Metropolitan Division and on the cusp of clinching a playoff spot.
After giving up a goal in the first minute of the game to Mats Zuccarello, the Kings stormed back by scoring the next four goals, including a highlight-reel tic-tac-toe play executed perfectly by Justin Williams, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. Gaborik swatted a one-timer home for his 23rd goal of the season, giving the Kings the lead in the second period.
A meaningless Kevin Hayes tally in the final four minutes made the final score 4-2, but the game was never in doubt after the first period.
The Kings get a piece of the rock
Thursday night’s game against the New York Islanders was predicted to be close, and it was close. The game was tied 2-2 with less than five minutes to go in the third period when Anze Kopitar redirected a blast from the point by defenseman Andrej Sekera past Jaroslav Halak for the game winner.
We didn’t have the best road record coming in, but it doesn’t really matter what happened,” said Kopitar (NHL.com). “We are looking ahead now. We have eight games left and we have to win a few more of them to get the (playoff) spot. It was a great team win.”
With the win, the Kings officially conquered New York and moved into a playoff spot. The Kings are now 37-23-14, good for third place in the Pacific Division, one point in front of the Calgary Flames.
Apparently, social media approves:
You know who likes squeaking into the playoffs and then winning the Cup? The LA Kings.
— Disco Stu (@TheDiscoStu) March 27, 2015
— theScore (@theScore) March 26, 2015
The playoff push won’t be easy
By no means is this the time to celebrate. The road trip concludes with extremely difficult games at Minnesota and Chicago. Following the matchup with the Blackhawks, Los Angeles comes home for two games (Edmonton, Colorado), goes back on the road for three (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary) and finishes up the regular season against arch-rival San Jose.
It’s the NHL. The Kings could win or lose the majority, depending on hot goalies, bad bounces and/or a hundred other factors. That being said, the league’s preeminent clutch team is now officially in the driver’s seat for the playoffs. That sound you’re hearing is the rest of the NHL quaking in their collective boots.
What do you think? Will the Kings make the playoffs, and if so, will they employ their patented brand of grinding, lock-down hockey for yet another deep run? Leave your thoughts below, or message me @McLaughlinWalt.