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Five reasons Kings advanced to second round

by Curtis Zupke

How close was the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues? Only once did either team hold a two-goal lead, and that was for all of 5:01.

The teams combined for 479 hits in an inch-by-inch territorial tussle. If it went to a Game 7, they might have been playing until Memorial Day.

But the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings prevailed to win their fifth straight Stanley Cup Playoff series as the lower-seeded road team, and eliminated the Blues for the second straight year. What was the difference?

Let's start with that defending champion pedigree in the five reasons Los Angeles advanced to the semifinals.

1. Single-mindedness

About 86 percent of teams that take a 2-0 lead go on to win a series. The Kings were no ordinary 14 percent.

Credit Kings coach Darryl Sutter and his staff for getting their team to compartmentalize each game after that 2-0 hole. L.A. pulled out a 1-0 win in an ugly Game 3 and leaned on its resiliency to erase deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 in Game 4 with a pair of goals in a 76-second span in the third period to even the series.

After the Game 6 win -- the sixth one-goal game -- Sutter said he never doubted that resolve.

"I think they believe in it … otherwise you don't make the playoffs being the defending champion, and you don't win rounds being the defending champion," he said.

It was the second time in team history they overcame a 2-0 series deficit. The other was against the Detroit Red Wings in 2001.

2. Quick bounces back

Actually, it doesn't sound right to say that Jonathan Quick bounced back from his puck-handling gaffe in Game 1, because Quick was the only reason the Kings were in that game.

It could have been a nerve-rattling loss for some goalies; however, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner shook it off and eventually bested counterpart Brian Elliott.

Elliott finished with a 1.90 goals-against average and .919 save percentage, the former usually good enough to win a series. Yet Quick made it second-best with a 1.58 GAA and .944 save percentage -- roughly the same percentage he carried in last year's playoffs.

3. Doughty rode hard

Sutter has been high on defenseman Drew Doughty since the coach arrived in L.A., and it was no surprise he played Doughty big minutes in the postseason after he was fourth in the NHL in average ice time in the regular season.

Doughty was a horse in the quarterfinals. He averaged 28:49 of ice time per game; the next closest teammate was Rob Scuderi at 22:33. Doughty's 172:57 total ice time was more than 13 minutes more than the next closest player in the postseason through Friday.

Doughty's value was evident in a Game 5 overtime win when he logged 33:37, and he scored the first goal with a slick fake-slap wrist shot in Game 6.

4. Williams comes alive

Justin Williams
Justin Williams
Right Wing - LAK
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 24 | +/-: 2
Those who remember Justin Williams in the last weeks of the Terry Murray era might remember Williams fumbling around like he had never held a stick in his hands.

Contrast that with this postseason. Williams arguably was the Kings' best forward in a series that yielded slow-drip offense. Williams put 24 shots on net in six games and scored in Games 1 and 4, the latter a deflection that capped a rally from a 3-2 third-period deficit.

The score sheet won't show that Williams lived up to his nickname, "Stick," with an active stick that broke up passes, deflected shots and nudged pucks to teammates.

5. Penalty killing

In a series in which both teams averaged fewer than three power plays a game, special teams were a small but critical aspect. The Kings killed 15 of 17 penalties and allowed one power-play goal in the final five games.

Quick anchored the penalty-killing unit, but it was the Kings' cast of grinders that helped make it difficult for the Blues by getting sticks and bodies in lanes. Los Angeles limited St. Louis to 25 or fewer shots in three games.

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