LOS ANGELES — Whenever Los Angeles Kings Hall-of-Fame play-by-play announcer Bob Miller says, “do you believe it” during a Kings telecast you know something special has happened to the Kings, and when Miller uttered those words on Saturday night (November 10), once again, the unbelievable was unfolding before our eyes.
Days later, the Kings are still riding high after their stunning, come-from-way-behind, 6-5 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars at Staples Center.
In case you missed it, on that fateful Saturday night in front of a sell-out crowd of 18,118 fans, the Kings came out a bit flat after a week-long break, courtesy of the mental midgets in the National Hockey League’s scheduling office, and they spotted the Stars a 4-0 lead after two periods.
“We were out of our game rhythm for the last week, so maybe we were a little bit rusty in the beginning,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar.
All seemed lost for the Kings. Fans booed them off the ice at the end of the second period, and a good number began filing out of the arena.
In the third period, Stars goaltender Marty Turco continued his hot play, making save after save.
At the 12:46 mark, Kings right wing Dustin Brown scored on the power play, but the prevailing thought was “OK, at least the Kings didn’t get shut out.” Some fans continued the constant trickle towards the doors.
But as the period wore on, the Stars sagged and lost their edge, giving the Kings the chance they needed and they took advantage in a big, big way.
When the smoke finally cleared, the Kings had scored five straight third-period goals in just 5:07, setting a new franchise record.
The old record was set on November 2, 1985, when the Kings scored five goals in 5:37 in the third period at Hartford, where the Kings beat the Hartford Whalers, 8-1.
But the Kings’ lead was short-lived. Stars center Mike Modano blasted a slap shot past Kings goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin for a power play goal at 18:55 to tie the game, 5-5, sending the contest into overtime.
The Stars could not convert on the one scoring chance they got in the extra period, and that set the stage for Kopitar.
Just after the halfway point of the overtime period, Kings right wing Alexander Frolov dug out a loose puck in the left corner and got the puck back to Kopitar, who quickly turned and took the puck into the slot, leaving Dallas defenseman Philippe Boucher in his wake.
Kopitar moved in front and got off a low backhand, beating Turco between his leg pads for the game-winning goal. The Kings had pulled off another unbelievable comeback victory, handing the Stars an embarrassing 6-5 overtime defeat.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really looking,” Kopitar said of his game-winning backhand. “ I just walked out of the corner with the puck on my backhand. I knew where the net was and where the goalie probably was. I wasn’t aiming for anything. I just tried to put it on net and it turned out to be really lucky.”
The Staples Center crowd roared its loudest when Kopitar scored the overtime game-winner. But even during that wild ovation, one could see a variety of reactions among fans, ranging from stunned silence and total disbelief to sheer rapture.
Upstairs in the press box, beat writers covering both teams were seen furiously rewriting their game stories, which had already been rewritten several times since the end of the second period when a totally different outcome was expected.
How Did They Pull It Off?
Especially in the NHL, coming back to win a game after looking up at such a large deficit is generally unheard of. That raises the question of how the Kings pulled off such a feat.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “We knew we had to get the puck to the net as often as we could. I thought we did it in the second period really well, but we didn’t crack Dallas or their goaltending. And when we did crack it, we kept persevering. It was a great win for our players. They showed no quit, no lack of intensity to try and get things done and they got a payoff at the end.”
“Before the last period, we said that we were going to go all out, show our character and not give up,” said Kopitar, who was named the first star of the game. “That turned out amazing tonight. We got the momentum going after the second goal and took it all the way.”
“After I got that first goal, [Kings winger Scott] Thornton scored on the very next shift and the momentum kind of built,” said Brown. “You don’t see that happen too often. I don’t think we competed in the first period like we needed to. I thought we played pretty good in the second and then we dominated in the third.”
In addition to changing their forecheck in the third period by sending two forwards deep into the Dallas zone as opposed to just one, a big factor in the Kings’ turnaround was the play of their defensemen, who ignited their offense.
“They were terrific,” Crawford said of his defensive corps. “We had some great performances from the defense getting up in the play, getting involved and getting to the net. People like Johnson, Blake, Visnovsky and Stuart—they seemed to be in on the play all of the last two periods.”
“We did a better job of getting traffic to the net,” added Crawford. “We did a great job and I can’t compliment our defense enough as to how much they stimulated our offense and how much they got involved in our offense. That was, if you’re really going to dissect the game, that was the difference for us as we got going. It seemed to give them fits.”
“It was determination, getting pucks to the net and doing a lot of simple things on a repeated basis.”
A Night To Remember
Like the 1982 song of the same name by the rhythm and blues group Shalamar, for the Kings players, Saturday night was certainly “A Night to Remember.”
“It was just an amazing, amazing game,” said Kopitar. “It followed a script that’s never been done before. This could be the craziest game of my career when it’s all said and done.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been [part of something like this],” added Kopitar. “We were talking with Blake and [Kings winger Michael] Cammalleri. Blake said they were up 3-0 against St. Louis [in the 1998 playoffs] and [the Blues] came back and tied it 3-3 in five minutes. So we said ‘why don’t we do it?’ It’s a funny thing to say but it turned out to be real.”
Looking ahead, this game could be a building block for the young Kings.
“That was very exciting, I’m very pleased for our guys,” Crawford explained. “That’s the type of finish you’ll look back and say, ‘Holy Cow! That was really special.’ We may look back on this game as a real turning point for this young Kings team. They showed a lot of determination, they showed a lot of poise at the end of the game. This is something we can energize ourselves with and its something we can continue to build on.”
“At the very least, when we’re down again in a game, and we will be at some point in the season, we can always point to this,” Crawford elaborated. “You can have a big comeback like this. We’ve got enough ability to score and we did it in a very positive manner. We got a few breaks, but you always do when you work as hard as we did at the end.”
Give The Stars An Assist
Although one has to give most of the credit to the Kings for turning the heat up several notches to fuel their huge comeback effort, the fact remains that the Stars were horrendous in the last eight-plus minutes of the third period and in overtime—they certainly played a large part in the Kings’ come-from-behind win.
“The whole third period was brutal,” said a furious Marty Turco in a very quiet Stars dressing room. “People keep talking about a lesson, but I think it’s just embarrassing. Other than embarrassing, it’s a total lack of respect for each other in my mind.”
“If last week’s home stretch and meetings and look-in-the-mirror talk wasn’t enough, then we sure have some big problems here,” added Turco.
Stars head coach Dave Tippett was livid after the game.
“It’s unacceptable right from the goaltender on out in the third period,” Tippett fumed. “You try to play with composure. You need your top players to calm the game down for you. But every puck they threw at the net ended up in the net. It’s pretty hard when you’re just throwing pucks at the net and they’re just going in.”
“It’s little things that win you hockey games,” Tippett lamented. “It’s winning face-offs, chipping pucks out, defending the lead. We gave away momentum and couldn’t get it back. We go over how important it is to keep pushing, but it takes a hard lesson like this for it to sink in. We have to recognize the things we need to do to win hockey games.”
The Stars, who are 7-7-3, good for seventeen points and second place in the Pacific Division standings as of this writing, are off to a slow start this season and their unthinkable meltdown against the Kings has raised big red flags throughout their organization.
Last season, the Stars were 30-3-1 when leading after two periods and until Saturday night, they had won 34 straight games when leading by two or more goals at any point in a game.
“You don’t do that the way we have and not know how to close out games,” Tippett told the Dallas Morning News. “We know how to close out games. Now we have to go out and do that.”
Tippett lit into his players before practice on Monday, and then put them through a grueling, on-ice workout that focused on fundamentals and teamwork.
But Saturday’s embarrassing defeat was apparently the last straw for Stars owners Tom Hicks, who fired general manager Doug Armstrong on Tuesday.
“As an owner I have to be responsible for one person in Hockey Operations and that is the General Manager of the team,” said Hicks. “I thought that the team needed a change in direction. I know that change can be healthy and it was my determination that this move needed to be made.”
“I want the Dallas Stars to return to being one of the elite teams in the league.”
Hicks’ players breathed a sigh of relief that they were not among the organization’s changes on Tuesday, but they accepted responsibility for the change in the front office.
“It’s unfortunate that it had to come to that,” said Stars captain Brendan Morrow. “It was something that we didn’t get done on the ice, and that is the reason that someone who has been a part of the organization for seventeen years was let go. It’s a sad day. Maybe that is what we need to get a spark under us.”
“We all still believe in this team,” added Morrow. “There is not one guy that is not on board with this team. For some reason, we just haven’t gotten the job done. We’re a lot better hockey team than we show, and we all know that. We just can’t find ourselves right now. A shake up was going to happen, but no one really knew what it was going to be. We are still here, and we need to control what we can and that’s taking care of our hockey games. It starts tomorrow.”
“It’s a very surreal day to think about anybody losing their job when you have affected it,” said Turco. “And most recently, we talked it over as players. It’s things we’ve been doing as players that directly or indirectly caused this.”
Hicks named Brett Hull and Les Jackson as interim co-general managers for the remainder of the season.
“Brett Hull and Les Jackson are both people that I know and trust to do a great job and run our hockey club for the remainder of the season,” said Hicks. “They are very good hockey people and know the business well. They have complementary skill sets and successful hockey leadership records
“It’s early in the season and I am convinced they are the right people to provide direction, vision, management and guidance that get this team positioned to win another division crown.”
After the front office shake-up, it is now up to the players to get things turned around.
“Apparently little messages and conversations just weren’t enough,” said Turco. “Like I said, for [Hicks] to believe in us after what happened this morning sends a message to your heart. We’re pretty much done with the wake-up calls, now its time to pony-up.”
A Bit Of History
The Kings certainly have established a history of incredible comebacks.
On April 10, 1982 at the Forum in Inglewood, the Kings found themselves looking up at a 5-0 deficit after two periods against the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. But the Kings came roaring back to score five straight goals in the third period and then win it in overtime, 6-5, on a goal by left wing Daryl Evans, who is currently the Kings radio color commentator.
That game, known as the Miracle on Manchester, is the high point of the Kings’ forty-year history to date.
A little over nineteen years later, on April 18, 2001, the Kings spotted the vaunted Detroit Red Wings three goals through two periods in the opening round of the playoffs, only to score three straight third-period goals to tie the game, and then get the game-winner from center Eric Belanger at 2:36 of overtime in what became known as the “Frenzy on Figueroa.”
And more recently, the Kings handed the Stars another, slightly less embarrassing defeat on February 12, 2006.
In that game, the Stars, with Turco in goal, had a 5-2 lead, only to cough up a 6-5 victory to the Kings.
Fast forward back to Saturday’s monumental comeback, the only other question remaining was what to call this amazing game.
The name heard most downstairs near the dressing rooms was the “Flurry on Figueroa,” although “Royal Rebound” was also mentioned.
Whatever they decide to call it, this rather astounding comeback win by the Kings is certainly another one for the ages.
“Los Angeles is known for some pretty big comebacks in hockey and this one’s going to rank right up there for sure,” said Crawford.
Ducks Draw First Blood
On November 13, the Kings opened a home-and-home series against the Anaheim Ducks with a 4-3 shootout loss in front of a sell-out crowd of 17,174 fans at Honda Center.
With the loss, the Kings blew a chance to move above .500 in the standings for the first time since October 10, 2006, the third game of the 2006-07 season.
The two teams meet again on November 15 at Staples Center, and the Kings just might have an advantage other than being in their own building.
At the end of the overtime period on Tuesday night, Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger got into an altercation with Kings center Michal Handzus. When it was all over, Pronger received a fighting major, an instigating minor and a game misconduct,
League rules dictate that any player receiving an instigator penalty and the accompanying automatic game misconduct in the last five minutes of the third period or in overtime shall be suspended for one game.
National Hockey League Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell can rescind the suspension after review, but if he does not, Pronger will likely have to sit out Thursday’s game at Staples Center.
An interesting side note: FSN aired two versions of Tuesday’s game. Their traditional broadcast, with the usual high sideline view, instant replay and play-by-play and color commentary was broadcast on FSN Prime Ticket.
As a test, FSN West broadcast a “rinkside view,” with cameras all around the rink at ice level.
One thing is certain: the powers that be at FSN evidently do not watch much hockey. Otherwise, they would know that although you can make out player’s faces and other details on the ice, the game is difficult to watch at ice level, especially on television, and that’s putting it mildly. Add to that the loss of instant replay and the “rinkside view” experiment turned out to be nothing more than a worthless gimmick that makes it far more difficult to watch hockey and it should be abandoned immediately.
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