After never having faced each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs prior to this season, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have now pushed their second round series to the limit–setting up a decisive Game 7 at the Honda Center on Friday evening. The Kings were in this position in the first round against the San Jose Sharks, as well, so they’re no strangers to a Game 7 on the road against one of their rivals. In fact, the Kings have faced five elimination games in the first two rounds, and they’re 5-0 so far. Looking back at the Kings’ playoff series from the past three seasons, they’ve played a total of seven game 6s or 7s, and they’re 6-1. In other words, this team thrives on pressure, and steps up when everything is on the line.
May 14, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) celebrates with center Trevor Lewis (22) at the end of game six of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks at Staples Center. The Kings defeated the Ducks 2-1 to tie the series 3-3. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
As has been the case throughout the second round of the playoffs, the team scoring first almost certainly wins. Thus far, the team scoring first is 25-1! In this series, the team scoring first has won every game. While the team that falls behind 1-0 in Game 7 (assuming it’s in regulation) will certainly not be thinking about that statistic during the game, it’s no random coincidence. With respect to game 7s, the team that scores first is 114-40 all-time in NHL playoff history. In Game 6, the Kings snapped a three-game losing streak by shutting down the Ducks’ attack. Jonathan Quick was stellar in net, and the Kings’ defense forced the Ducks’ to shoot from outside–limiting odd-man rushes and traffic in front of Quick (who only faced 22 shots). That has been the predominant theme of these playoffs for the Kings–when they win, it’s because they play stellar defense and force teams to shoot from the outside, and when they lose, it’s because they’re turning the puck over in the neutral zone, and allowing odd-man rushes and frequent rebound opportunities. Of course, with Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell out injured for a majority of the series, the Kings have had to compensate for the absence of their two most veteran defensemen. While there have been some hiccups, Matt Greene and Jeff Schultz have filled in admirably.
May 14, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) makes a save against the Anaheim Ducks in game six of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center. The Kings defeated the Ducks 2-1 to tie the series 3-3. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
On the injury front, Frederik Andersen is still out indefinitely for the Ducks, making Jonas Hiller the back-up goalie for Game 5. Matt Beleskey also remains out. For the Kings, Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr remain out indefinitely, although Mitchell has been skating recently and could be back if the Kings advance to the conference finals.
May 10, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings right wing Justin Williams (14) handles the puck against the Anaheim Ducks in game four of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center. The Ducks defeated the Kings 2-0 to tie the series 2-2. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
His game 7 performances have become somewhat legendary at this point, so if the Kings are going to win Game 7, they will absolutely need Justin Williams to be a factor. In his career, Williams is 5-0 with 10 points (five goals) in his previous game 7s of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has two game-winning goals in those five games. As it turns out, Marian Gaborik and Mike Richards also happen to be 5-0 in game 7s, and Jeff Carter is 3-0. Early contributions from these players would certainly be the most reassuring sign that the Kings are destined to move on to the next round to face the Chicago Blackhawks.