All you have to do is make the playoffs. After that, anything can happen.
Call it a Cinderalla story, call them longshots, call them what you will – but the fact is, the Los Angeles Kings are living proof that the NHL’s postseason is a brand new season altogether.
After defeating the top-ranked Vancouver Canucks in five games of the opening round of the playoffs, the Kings took a commanding 3-0 series lead last night against the St. Louis Blues, a team that finished second overall in the Western Conference behind the Canucks.
The Kings defeated the Blues 4-2 behind strong play from defenseman Drew Doughty, who tallied a goal and two assists, and forward Mike Richards, who added a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, an assist and a fight on the night. Goaltender Jonathan Quick continued his stellar play, improving to an impressive 7-1 record this postseason.
Los Angeles outshot the Blues 22-20, but they also outhit the Blues 46-39 and played a more disciplined game with only nine penalty minutes compared to St. Louis’ 15.
“It’s one of those things where we play a hard, physical game,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “We have everyone being physical, bumping. When you have 20 guys doing that to you for 60 minutes, it can be a frustrating game. We’ve done it for three games. Now it’s important to do it for a fourth game. We have a stranglehold on this series. Now it’s having that killer instinct.”
St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock sounded optimistic that Game 3 would be his team’s best game of the series, but that hope quickly diminished with untimely and undisciplined penalties.
“In two of the three games it’s been a major problem,” Hitchcock said of the penalties. “Veteran players taking reactionary penalties … We can’t beat this team when we’re sitting in the penalty box.”
“I think our bigger problem is stupid penalties,” Hitchcock said. “That takes us out of the 5-on-5, and that wastes energy because we use our best players to kill penalties.”
Los Angeles went one-for-five on the power play last night. That power play goal by Richards ended up being the game-winner.
Part of the reason for the success of the Kings in this series is the balanced contributions from the team’s top players. Richards leads the way with five points, including two goals, whileAnze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner all have four points apiece. Defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Justin Williams each have three points in the series as well.
“Things are going well because guys are working hard,” said Justin Williams, who scored the Kings’ first goal. “Guys are paying the price and doing every little thing. We’re certainly not looking ahead just yet, but we’ve fought hard to get this position, and now we’re one game away from getting to the conference championship.”
Los Angeles could clinch the series in Game 4 Sunday front of their home crowd. This would be the team’s first trip to the Conference Finals since 1993.