Saying that a feat is the least improbable of the group when it has happened four times in NHL history might seem strange, but what the Los Angeles Kings accomplished in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs might not be as crazy as it seems.
The Kings were able to shrug off a 3-0 deficit in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks and complete an improbable four-game winning streak to advance to the second round. That San Jose won the first three games by a combined margin of 17-8 might seem to make it even more unlikely.
The truth is, the series had already turned for Los Angeles by the time Patrick Marleau scored in overtime for the Sharks in Game 3. The players in the Kings dressing room already believed they had fixed much of what ailed them early in the series, and they were confident they could rally.
There could have been a bad bounce or an injury or something like that along the way to derail them, but the Kings continued to get better as the series progressed and losses turned into wins. Given that Los Angeles and San Jose were almost dead even on paper, the Kings winning four of seven was not a surprise. How they did it certainly was, but it wasn't necessarily the near-impossible miracle that other rallies from 3-0 down might have been.
Here are five of the reasons the Kings were able to rebound and claim the first half of their tour of California before getting ready for the Anaheim Ducks in round two:
1. Two best players
In a series loaded with stars, Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar were the two best. Doughty controlled the game, helping the Kings attempt more than 56 percent of the shots at even strength when the score was close when he was on the ice. Producing a goal (in Game 7) and seven points was pretty nice too.
Kopitar had four goals and 10 points, and his line shut down Marleau, Logan Couture and Matt Nieto at the other end in the final four games. The Sharks' top forwards did not stay with Kopitar when he found a different level late in the series, and they lost "their Doughty," as coach Todd McLellan called Marc-Edouard Vlasic, to injury.
2. Line them up
Kings coach Darryl Sutter made changes to his forward lines at a key point in the series, and they paid off. He moved Dustin Brown to the top line with Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, but the offshoot of that -- Justin Williams going to the third line -- might have been as important.
Williams teamed with Jarret Stoll and Dwight King to hammer the Sharks in possession just as the series was turning in Los Angeles' favor. Whether San Jose put Joe Pavelski at center or James Sheppard on the third line, it didn't have the same effect it did earlier in the series because of the work by Stoll, Williams and King.
Sutter also moved Mike Richards to a line that everyone else would refer to as the fourth, but he was adamant it was not. Richards centered Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford, but he moved around and saw lots of special-teams work, so he remained one of L.A.'s top forwards in ice time.
Richards helped Kopitar combat the top guns on the Sharks, and the Kings' depth guys beat up on the Sharks'. It might not have been all Sutter's doing, but his changes certainly worked.
3. Quick turnaround
Jonathan Quick had an .852 save percentage in the first three games. He had a .963 save percentage in the final four games.
This is pretty self-explanatory.
4. Turn it off
One of the big reasons for Quick's poor statistics in the first few games was the large number of quality chances the Kings were yielding. Brown said Los Angeles gave up more odd-man rushes in the first two games than it did in the last month of the regular season.
It cut off San Jose's transition game, and part of that was cutting down on turnovers in bad spots. Brown and others in the dressing room preached puck management, and the Kings suffocated the Sharks because of it.
5. The kids are all right
At one point during the comeback, Sutter, not one to be consistently effusive with praise, said rookie forward Tyler Toffoli was the reason the Kings were still playing. Toffoli teamed with his old American Hockey League buddy Tanner Pearson on a line with Jeff Carter, and they gave Los Angeles a shot of adrenaline.
That the two rookies combined for four goals (three by Toffoli) and hooked up for a huge insurance goal early in the third period of Game 7 was also a big part of why they made this list. San Jose's fourth line was productive in the first two games, but that group did not have Pearson and Toffoli, who were officially on the second line but earned fourth-unit minutes and were effective in that role.
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