More than matchups, beyond statistics, and of greater importance than plays drawn on a chalkboard, only a show of will greater than their opponent can extend the Los Angeles Kings' season for another day.
"When you get to this time of year, it's 80 percent attitude, 20 percent talent," Kings coach Terry Murray said after a brief morning skate Sunday. "I've said this in the past with our group in team meetings."
Facing elimination in Game 6 Sunday night at home against a resurgent foe, the Vancouver Canucks, the Kings know that the mental game will make all the difference.
"You've got to be intense," Murray said. "You've got to be aware of what the situation is. Elimination game, so the intensity is important. Do the right things right away and get your game established. Play hard, play the right way. You don't have to try to do anything spectacular."
Anze Kopitar, who has recorded points in three of the five games, including the winning goal in Game 2, agreed that the solution to turning the series around is between the ears.
"When you face elimination, it's not a whole lot about X's and O's," Kopitar told NHL.com. "It's one of those things where you have the system, and you have the structure but it's just go out and make it happen, basically. You want to do it every shift, you want to be better than the guy across from you and that's all that's going to matter tonight."
"The veteran players in the locker room have been there before, we've got several guys who have won the Stanley Cup, so they're going to lead the way," Murray added.
If the Kings are unsuccessful, the Canucks will point to the third period of Game 4 as the turning point.
With the Kings leading 3-2, Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo stopped Dustin Brown on an odd-man rush, then, seconds later, made a spectacular save on an Alexander Frolov breakaway. Shortly after, the Canucks erupted for four goals, the Kings having squandered a chance to go up, 3-1, in the series. Two nights later, a 7-2 blowout in Game 5 pushed the Kings to the brink of elimination.
"Having the lead going into the third period and potentially looking to take a 3-1 lead, and allowing them to come back like that and score late is tougher than getting blown out and having no letdown, you were just awful and you sweep that under the rug," Kings defenseman Sean O'Donnell said.
In Game 6, the Kings will seek a turning-point moment of their own. To do so, they'll need to make a dramatic cut in coverage errors. L.A. has given up 13 goals in the last two games after surrendering eight in the first three.
"The last five periods haven't been really solid periods for us, and Vancouver's been good, but it's been more of us having some really blown coverages and we've made some mental mistakes," O'Donnell said. "If we can get back on track, they're still going to get chances but we can limit the kind of chances they get."
O'Donnell doesn't worry about the Kings' ability to refocus mentally.
"The one thing this team has done all year is bounce back from disappointing games," O'Donnell said. "We feel like we have a lot of good hockey left. We had a team meeting after the game and basically tried to let everyone know that whether we lose 2-1 in overtime, or lose 7-2, it's one game, sweep it under the rug and get ready for Sunday. I think the guys have done a good job of that."
One thing that can't be swept under the rug is the play of Vancouver's Mikael Samuelsson, who leads the NHL with seven playoff goals, three in the last two games. Samuelsson joined Henrik and Daniel Sedin on the top line in the second period of Game 4 and it's been downhill ever since for the Kings' opponent.
"(Samuelsson is) a very good player and right now he's playing unbelievable," O'Donnell said. "He's not just scoring top corner. He's scoring top corner where it's going off the post and in. Everything he's doing is just perfect right now. When he plays with the Sedins, they have almost more of a Datsyuk/Zetterberg feel."
"Throughout the course of the last two games, we've made some mistakes that have led to their goals," said Kopitar. "They're good players, they're going to make plays. We just have to make sure that they're not getting chances off of our turnovers, just eliminate the time and space."
Murray will start the game using all four lines, and said that his depth players will get an opportunity to go up against some of Vancouver's better lines, and if necessary, he'll adjust.
Murray trusts that his young roster contains players who can overcome the gravity of the moment.
"Our young guys are very capable and willing and know how to play in those big games," Murray said. "They've responded to those kinds of looks in the past and today's a good challenge for them."
O'Donnell said that despite the losses in Games 4 and 5, his club has shown since October that it can rebound.
"This is a good team in here, and we had 100 points," O'Donnell said. "Hopefully after the buzzer goes, we can go on to playing a Game 7."