Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today — Mark Twain
Having earned the right to sit back and relax after posting the conference’s fourth-best record at 25-14-5, the Kings did just that Saturday night as they awaited the Dallas Stars’ final regular-season visit to the Staples Center on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks did some heavy lifting in their stead, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in a shootout 2-1. The Vancouver win clinched a playoff spot for both themselves and the Kings, the fourth consecutive playoff berth Los Angeles has enjoyed after seven previous years of failure.
“We just want to take care of our own business and let it fall where it may,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, reflecting on the Kings’ chances to win the division at five points behind with four games left on the schedule. “There’s just such a fine line between the teams that you’ve just got to sort of take care of your own.”
Familiarity Breeds Confidence
In 2011-12, the Kings went 13-5-3 to finish the regular season, capturing the 8th seed with 95 points in the process. The offense, utterly futile for the majority of the year, averaged 2.83 goals per game during that stretch, and as we all know, continued in dominant fashion during the playoffs. This year, Los Angeles has blazed to the finish line once again, posting a 22-9-3 record since February 11th. As it stands, the Kings are in prime position to secure the fourth seed and home ice advantage when the playoffs begin on April 30th. Unlike last season, the offense has produced virtually the entire way, currently ranking ninth overall at 2.77 goals per game. Former Philadelphia Flyer/Columbus Blue Jacket Jeff Carter leads the team with 24 goals, fourth-best in the league.
“Things are rounding into form,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick after L.A.’s 2-1 victory over the aforementioned Blue Jackets on Thursday. “They’re one of the hotter teams in the league. They’ve beaten good teams, and we knew they were going to bring a lot of grit, a lot of energy to the game.” Indeed, the Blue Jackets had been winning on the strength of their defense and the incredible play of unlikely Vezina front-runner Sergei Bobrovsky. And yet, the Kings have shown themselves to be even more well-rounded than last year’s squad, with top-ten rankings both offensively and defensively.
Kings Control Their Own Fate
As of this writing, the Kings have amassed 55 points in 44 games, the exact same numbers as division-rival San Jose. However, the Kings hold the tiebreaker with 23 regulation wins, versus just 16 for the Sharks. With that, Los Angeles’ final game of the regular season is home against the Sharks, the winner very possibly securing the all-important fourth seed and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Were Los Angeles to take the seed, it would be more than a little noteworthy: the team has not had home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs since 1992.
St. Louis is in the running for home ice as well, just one point behind the two clubs. Even Minnesota has a mathematical chance with 51 points. After the Columbus game, defenseman Matt Green, having skated his first game after missing the entire season due to an injury, said, “We’re still looking for home ice. We’ve got to keep eating up points and go into the playoffs playing well.”
As is generally the case with a defending champion, the Kings were early favorites to win the Cup, but fell back after they hovered around the .500 mark during the early part of the season. Having said that, their two-month hot streak has propelled them back into serious consideration. According to VegasInsider.com, Los Angeles is 7th with 12/1 odds to win it all and rising rapidly.
Keep in mind that just prior to last year’s playoffs, the Kings were but a dim, distant afterthought in the Cup race, as no team had ever won it all from the eighth seed. Los Angeles hopes to do more conventionally this time around.