There is a reason they call it home ice ‘advantage’ in a best-of-7 playoff series going into a Game 7. But don’t tell the Anaheim Ducks.
There is a reason why the Chicago Blackhawks hadn’t lost a game at home in the 2014 NHL Playoffs. But that was before the Los Angeles Kings.
Merriam Webster defines the term ‘character’ in the following ways:
: the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves : someone's personality
: a set of qualities that are shared by many people in a group, country, etc.
: a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things
The Kings became the first team in NHL history to win consecutive series in a single post-season after losing three straight games in each series, which they did after excusing the Sharks, then the Ducks to early tee-times.
Certainly the ‘Cardiac Kings,’ as they have been affectionately dubbed by fans who have sweated bullets during the past two series, are doing something right to be accomplishing such improbable tasks, but what exactly is this feeling – this quality – that they share that makes them different from the others?
“(Kings Presidet/General Manager) Dean (Lombardi) puts a high value on personal character traits and this goes a long way to molding together a group of guys who rarely get rattled and never stop believing,” said Kings television analyst Jim Fox.
“This allows the team to focus on the task at hand and not look too far ahead and only look back to learn from their mistakes,” Fox, a former Kings right wing himself, added. “This involves a trust factor that has been built through playing together for a long period of time, with the leadership nucleus growing up together and going through many learning lessons which has prepared them for most any situation.”
The Kings current roster is comprised of 16 players who won the Cup together with the Kings in 2012, and the players added since have a combined total of 43 points thus far in the 2014 playoffs. Keep in mind, one of the newbies is backup goaltender, Martin Jones.
The leadership nucleus that Fox refers to includes Captain Dustin Brown and Alternate Captain Anze Kopitar, who were both drafted by the Kings in the 2003 and 2005 NHL Entry Drafts, respectively. Both have remained in the organization ever since.
“I think it shows what type of team we have in here,” said Brown following the Sharks series. “Unfortunately (we) found ways to dig ourselves into a hole, but we always find a way to climb on each others’ backs and climb out. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about with this team.”
That ‘team first’ attitude is one of the biggest factors for success that Fox sees in the Kings.
“The coaching staff led by Darryl Sutter puts a high emphasis on the battle areas of the game, but, bottom line, this group of players plays for each other, not for themselves,” Fox said. “No one cares about who gets the individual credit, they only care about the final goal of being as successful as possible, as a group.”
Resilience is a product of character, and the Kings showed plenty of resilience not only in the San Jose series, but also against the Ducks, and through two playoff rounds are 6-0 in elimination games.
“You look at a lot of the teams that have made it very successful in the playoffs the last four or five years, they have a core group of players that have gone through climbing a hill, so to speak, together, and that, I think, goes longer than anything else, just that trust that you build up in those situations,” said Brown after the Game 7 win in Anaheim. “It’s a lot easier when you know that you have guys on each side of you that are all pulling the same way.”
Whatever the training staff has been putting in the water is being effectively distributed to everyone on the team, as Kopitar’s thoughts echoed those of Brown.
“It’s in this room – we don’t look outside too much. We believe in this room, and that’s the most important thing,” said the first-time Selke Trophy finalist after their elimination of the Ducks. “We trust in each other, and when you throw a little desperation and urgency on top of it, we’re playing pretty good hockey.”
Although the Western Conference Final between the Kings and Blackhawks is far from over, fans at United Center in Chicago were hushed in Game 2 on Wednesday, similar to the way the Sharks and Ducks fans were in both Game 7s.
After being outplayed and down 0-2 with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, the Kings took over and scored a whopping six unanswered goals the rest of the game to hand Chicago their first home playoff loss this year.
“Game 2 is another example of how this group does not live in the past. They just keep searching for ways to get better the next shift,” observed Fox. “Late in games you have to adjust due to time remaining and score, but overall, this group does not change their approach and it benefits them more times than not.”
Kings alternate captain and defenseman Matt Greene summed it up well, including the up-and-coming youngsters in his description:
“A lot of these guys have been together for a long time. Then when you add key pieces like Tanner (Pearson) and Tyler (Toffoli) up front, those are guys who are really good players and really smart in terms of being able to adapt to their roles on the team and succeeding in them. You just have to have confidence in what you’re doing with your coaches, the message they’re getting across and what they want you to execute, and doing it will get you success.”
Success is success, no matter how strange a form it comes in, and the Kings will take whatever they can collectively give themselves.
If all goes according to plan, maybe Merriam Webster will come calling upon the Kings to aid next year’s description of ‘character.’
Then again, perhaps the Stanley Cup will do.
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The LA Kings are proud to announce 5 Playoff Presenting Partners: McDonald’s (Regular Season Presenting Partner), TOYOTA, San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, Mercury Insurance Company and Travel Alberta. Along with McDonald’s, all were season-long partners and will add to their playoff presence with this commitment. Elements of the presenting partnerships include tags in all Kings marketing efforts, increased in-arena exposure, logos on all in-arena giveaways, and a significant on-line presence.