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Defending champion Kings on verge of rare comeback

by John Kreiser

The Los Angeles Kings are on the verge of doing something they've done only once since entering the NHL in 1967 -- coming from two games down to win a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Kings take the ice at Staples Center for Game 6 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal against the St. Louis Blues (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS) with the chance to wrap up the series after losing the first two games. In the previous 10 best-of-7 series in which the Kings lost the first two games, they won only once -- against Detroit in 2001, when, like this spring, they lost the first two games on the road.

Of course, having to come from behind is a stark contrast from last year for the Kings, who became the first team ever to win the first three games of all four best-of-7 series on the way to the Stanley Cup.

The Blues are trying to avoid a first -- they entered this spring with a 10-0 record when winning the first two games of a series.

Winning a series after losing the first two games isn't easy, but it does happen. Entering this year's playoffs, just over 13 percent of the 322 best-of-7 series that started out 2-0 were won by the team that lost the first two games. The last team to do it was the Boston Bruins, who dropped the first two games of the 2011 Final to the Vancouver Canucks but rallied to win the series in seven games.

Let's get physical -- Regardless of which team wins the Kings-Blues series, there will be plenty of bruises to go around. The first five games of the series produced a combined total of 406 hits -- 204 by Los Angeles and 202 by St. Louis.

That's slightly more than 40 hits per team per game -- well above what each team averaged during the regular season. Los Angeles was second in the League with an average of just over 30 per game; St. Louis was 14th at 23.3.

But there's more than one way to win. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Presidents' Trophy as the best team during the regular season despite finishing last with 17.5 hits per game; they breezed past the Minnesota Wild in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series despite averaging 24.2 hits, fewer than any team other than the Detroit Red Wings (23.8 through five games).

Finishing strong -- Teams that lead after the second period won approximately 85 percent of the time during the regular season, an average that's held true for years. That didn't help the Montreal Canadiens in their first-round loss to the Ottawa Senators.

The Canadiens were 17-2-2 during the regular season when taking a lead into the third period, but they lost twice in three tries against the Senators when leading after two periods -- including Game 4, when a 2-0 lead with less than 10 minutes left in regulation turned into a 3-2 loss. The reason: Ottawa outscored Montreal 13-0 after the second period -- 12-0 in the third period and 1-0 in OT.

That's an incredible turnaround from the regular season for the Canadiens, who were third in the NHL with 50 third-period goals and No. 1 in fewest goals allowed with 33. In contrast, Ottawa scored only 36 third-period goals in 48 regular-season games and allowed 39.

Time for Tomas -- Maybe the New York Islanders shouldn't have driven Pittsburgh Penguins' starter Marc-Andre Fleury to the bench in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
RECORD: 2-2-0
GAA: 3.40 | SVP: 0.891
Fleury took a seat for Game 5 on Thursday night after allowing 14 goals in the previous three games -- and losing two of them. In his place, Tomas Vokoun stopped all 31 shots he faced in a 4-0 victory that continued the 36-year-old's domination of the Islanders, especially at home.

Vokoun improved his career record against the Islanders on home ice -- including his time with the Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals, as well as the Penguins -- to 13-1-0, including six shutouts. He's 4-0-0 against New York this season (including playoffs) with two shutouts and a goals-against average of 0.69. Vokoun has not allowed a goal to the Islanders in his last 142:42.

Still, coach Dan Bylsma wouldn't name his Game 6 starter in his postgame press conference Thursday -- perhaps partly because Vokoun hasn't done nearly as well at the Nassau Coliseum as he has at home. Though he won his only appearance on Long Island this season, stopping 33 of 35 shots, he's 5-6-1 at the Coliseum in his career.

Vokoun's shutout on Thursday was the Penguins' second in the series -- Fleury blanked the Islanders 5-0 in Game 1. They are the first goaltenders from one team to have shutouts in the same series since Billy Smith and Glenn Resch of the Islanders did it against the Chicago Blackhawks in 1979. Smith and Resch did it the hard way -- they each posted a shutout in a best-of-3 series. The Islanders were also shut out by two goaltenders in the 1975 Semifinals, when Philadelphia's Wayne Stephenson and Bernie Parent did it.

Five is the loneliest number -- The Islanders would probably be happier if they could skip Game 5s and go right to Game 6. The loss to the Penguins on Thursday was their 10th in a row in Game 5 of a best-of-7 series; they haven't won a fifth game since beating Philadelphia 2-1 in the 1987 Patrick Division Finals.

Historically, the good news for the Islanders is that they're terrific in Game 6 -- New York has won 15 of the 19 in which it has played, including three in a row and 12 of the past 13. The Islanders are 12-1 when playing the sixth game of a series at the Nassau Coliseum, including nine in a row since their only loss -- to the Montreal Canadiens in 1977. Two of the 12 wins have come against the Penguins; in both of those series, the Islanders followed by winning Game 7 in Pittsburgh.

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