Escape Kings: L.A.'s brushes with elimination
The Los Angeles Kings only lost four games in their astounding 2012 title run. In stark contrast, they were pushed to the brink of elimination in all but one of their series in winning a second Stanley Cup this year.
If you want to make an argument that some teams are best with their backs against the wall, the 2014 Kings might be your Exhibit A. Let’s look back at their sterling efforts when they faced elimination.
(Interestingly, the Kings struggled quite a bit more when they were trying to put another team away. But let’s leave that out to keep this post from being 15,000 words.)
In case you somehow forgot, the Sharks went up 3-0 in this series, only to ...
Game 4 vs. San Jose: Kings win 6-3
Who knew how correct Darryl Sutter was in saying that the Kings wouldn’t go away quietly when they were down 3-0 to San Jose? The Kings saw 1-0 and 2-1 leads go away but never trailed in that Game 4, so they passed that early test without too many scares.
Game 5 vs. San Jose: Kings win 3-0
Tyler Toffoli scored the first goal 8:09 into the first period and the Kings didn’t really struggle in protecting a 2-0 first period lead. Jonathan Quick’s hot streak was really taking off at this point.
Game 6 vs. San Jose: Kings win 4-1
Justin Williams gave the Kings a 1-0 lead that they carried for a good chunk of this game, yet things were nervous in the second period. James Sheppard managed to tie things up 12:26 into that frame. Most interestingly, the Kings took three penalties in less than four minutes of game time, including an interference penalty from Robyn Regehr and a high-sticking infraction from Jarret Stoll just 23 seconds apart. You could argue that run of chances was San Jose’s best chance to finally put L.A. away.
Los Angeles pulled away in the third period with its season on the line as Williams and Anze Kopitar combined for three goals in less than three minutes. Things got very nasty at the end of Game 6, including an altercation between Joe Thornton and Quick.
Game 7 vs. San Jose: Kings win 5-1
After a scoreless first period, the Sharks finally scored the first goal of a game in which the Kings were facing elimination in this series as Matt Irwin made it 1-0 early in the second.
That didn’t matter for very long, however, as the Kings scored twice in the middle frame and rattled off five unanswered goals to become one of the few teams to come back from down 3-0 in a series. Quick only allowed two goals in the last three games, beginning a pattern of strong finishes by Los Angeles.
The Kings actually took a 2-0 series lead but eventually found themselves down 3-2 against Anaheim.
Game 6 vs. Anaheim: Kings win 2-1
Jake Muzzin opened the scoring in the first period while Trevor Lewis made it 2-0 with about six minutes left in the second period. Kyle Palmieri cut the lead in half to 2-1 about a minute and a half later, yet that’s as close as the Ducks would get on that night.
Game 7 vs. Anaheim: Kings win 6-2
The Kings made their 5-1 win in Game 7 against San Jose look heated compared to this anticlimactic contest. Williams, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards gave the Kings a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Kopitar and Marian Gaborik didn’t take long to beef that lead up to 5-0. While the Ducks’ goalie carousel continued, Quick continued to be a brick wall when Los Angeles needed him the most.
The shoe was on the other foot in this series. Los Angeles had a 3-1 lead after losing Game 1, yet the Blackhawks narrowly avoided elimination in Games 5 and 6 before setting up a fantastic finish.
Game 7 vs. Chicago: Kings win 5-4 in OT
After seeing the Blackhawks barely beat them in two heated games to stretch that classic Western Conference finals to the limit, the Kings managed their own late heroics. To start things off, the Kings survived an early onslaught from Chicago. The ‘Hawks generated 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 leads yet couldn’t put Los Angeles away. Most dramatically, Gaborik managed to send it to OT with a late third period goal. Alec Martinez’s shot bounced it past Corey Crawford and the Kings managed to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
One might argue that the Kings struggled mightily when the Blackhawks and New York Rangers faced elimination instead of the other way around. Los Angeles generally did things the hard way in this impressive 2014 run, yet they managed to get to the finish line nonetheless.
Sure, you could linger on how close they were to getting bounced ... although aside from that Game 7 classic against Chicago, the Kings generally turned it up quite a few notches when their season was on the line.