Kings on the Brink: Game 3 Preview


May 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) makes a save off San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) in the third period of game seven of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Staples Center. Kings won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Kings suffered a beat down of epic proportions in Games 1 and 2, losing to the Sharks in San Jose by scores of 6-3 and 7-2, respectively. After having just been awarded the Jennings Trophy because the Kings allowed the fewest regular season goals in the NHL in 2013-14, Jonathan Quick was pelted from all directions seemingly, allowing a total of 12 goals on 68 shots in just under 100 minutes in net. Kings defensemen looked slow and over-matched. Kings forwards were getting hit hard nearly every time they entered the Sharks’ zone with the puck. The team appeared uninspired, stunned, and nothing like the Kings’ team that grinded out a tough playoff victory against the Sharks in seven games last season.

The Sharks’ performance in Games 1 and 2, and the Kings’ lack thereof, could be chalked up to many things: the Kings weren’t ready to compete, the Sharks were eager to avenge last season’s playoff defeat, or maybe the Sharks are just a better team. Certainly, with all due respect to the Sharks, it’s pretty clear that no matter how much better the Sharks obviously played than the Kings did, the statistics would seem to support the conclusion that the Kings’ performance  was a bit of a fluke. For example, during the regular season, the Kings allowed the second lowest shots against average per game at 26.2. In Games 1 and 2, the Kings allowed a total of 73 shots. In helping Quick win the Jennings Trophy,  the Kings only allowed 2.05 goals per game on those average 26.2 shots, but in Games 1 and 2, those 73 shots turned into 13 goals–that’s three more goals than Quick allowed against San Jose in ALL seven conference quarterfinal games last season COMBINED. Let that statistic sink in for a minute…

As we pointed out in our series preview before Game 1, the biggest keys to a series victory would be puck possession, physical play, and home ice advantage. San Jose out-shot Los Angeles, upped its physical play, and dominated on home ice in Games 1 and 2. While the Kings actually had more hits, amazingly, they were pushed around at-will outside of the 3rd period in Game 1 and the 1st period in Game 2–during which they outscored the Sharks 5-1. While the Sharks took their foot off the gas pedal in the 3rd period of Game 1, the Kings legitimately seemed to be back on track in the 1st period of Game 2, until the wheels fell off in the 2nd period. In fact, for most of the four periods of Games 1 and 2 during which the Kings were outscored 12-0, the Sharks seemed to be skating twice as fast as the Kings. If they want to turn things around starting tonight in Game 3, then the Kings will have to sustain their energy and determination for more than just one period, and they will have to slow down the Sharks’ frenetic pace.

Looking back in Kings’ history, there are really only three other playoff series in the past 20 years from which to draw any inspiration. The most recent, of course, is last season’s first round series against the St. Louis Blues when the Kings lost Games 1 and 2 on the road before winning the following four games to take the series. Games 1 and 2 were both highly contested 2-1 affairs, however, and the Kings never seemed over-matched despite losing both games. The next most recent playoff series to draw inspiration from, was at the very beginning of the ‘Jonathan Quick era’, when the Kings faced the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2009-10 Stanley Cup playoffs. That team, was very young, and very raw, and while full of energy and moxie, they ultimately succumbed to the much stronger, veteran Canucks. After surprisingly taking a 2-1 series lead, the Canucks came back to dominate the Kings in Games 4 and 5 by a total score of 13-6. In Game 4, at home, the Kings took a 3-2 lead into the 3rd period, before falling apart and allowing the Canucks to score four goals (to the Kings’ one). While the Kings couldn’t recover from that meltdown during the series, that failure, along with the loss to the Sharks in the first round of the 2010-11 Stanley Cup playoffs, fueled the Kings to their Stanley Cup victory in 2011-12.

Looking back even further, and perhaps providing the most inspiration for the 2013-14 team, the Kings lost Games 1 and 2 on the road against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the 2000-01 Stanley Cup playoffs by a combined score of 9-3. They returned home, however, to win Games 3 and 4, both by one goal. In Game 4, the Kings were down 3-0 with less than seven minutes remaining in the 3rd period, before rallying to tie the game, then winning the game in overtime. The Kings went on to steal Game 5 in Detroit, again by one goal, and won Game 6 at home in overtime. So the Kings went from being dominated in Games 1 and 2, and being on the brink of a 3-1 series deficit in Game 4, to winning the series in six games. 

With everything that went wrong in Games 1 and 2 for this season’s Kings team, they can only hope that they can recapture some of the magic that fueled them in 2001 and 2012. If they don’t find that magic starting tonight in Game 3, there could be some significant changes coming during the off-season.