EL SEGUNDO, CA — The morning after the worst come-from-ahead loss in their playoff history, the Los Angeles Kings hit the ice at their practice facility, not to mention the road to recovery, after Game 3 of their first round playoff series on April 19, a game that may be remembered as the Flop On Figueroa.
In case you missed it, the Kings had a 4-0 lead early in the second period, and then got complacent. They allowed five goals in the period, along with another in overtime, gift-wrapping a 6-5 win for the San Jose Sharks, who now hold a 2-1 series lead going into Game 4 tonight at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
To their credit, the Kings were honest, if not rather blunt, about their collapse in Game 3.
“The bottom line is that we embarrassed ourselves,” said head coach Terry Murray. “We played a terrible game.”
That much was obvious. But why?
“We stopped making plays, we [lost our composure], we stopped getting in on the forecheck and getting pucks in deep,” said center Jarret Stoll. “When you play in your own zone for lengthy shifts, you’re going to get scored on, or your goalie’s going to have to bail you out. Nothing positive can come out of that. That’s what was happening.”
“They’re a fast, offensive team,” said right wing and team captain Dustin Brown. “If we give them transition plays, they can find lanes and open areas to score goals. That’s what happened on that overtime goal.”
“You know it was a bad game,” said Murray. “It was a poor performance. It was a poor performance for twenty minutes, really. The first period, there were a lot of good things that happened when you get a lead like that. Still, we had concerns coming out of that first period, the way we managed the puck. But the second period was us chasing the game. You just can’t allow yourself to get into that kind of exchange of rushes, a track meet kind of a game. We addressed that at the end of the second period.”
Shoddy puck management in the second period resulted in numerous turnovers, giving the Sharks a lot of time with the puck. Add to that the fact that the Kings were completely lost in their defensive zone throughout the period, it’s a wonder the Sharks failed to score a dozen goals, just in the second period.
“They kept coming, and we couldn’t get it stopped,” Murray lamented. “It was because of our puck management. Whenever we did get it on our sticks, we were not making the right plays, and just calming things down. That falls on a lot of veteran players. They’ve been through that kind of look before. That’s where we need to be better.”
As badly as that game turned out, one might expect the Kings to be sulking or depressed.
Sorry, guess again.
“It’s a long way from being over,” said Stoll. “We know that, and I’m sure [the Sharks] know that. It was a tough, devastating game. You get home, you sit on the couch, you put it out of your mind, and you get ready for Game 4.”
“You have to [immediately put it out of your mind],” added Stoll. “Things happen too quickly in the playoffs. It’s [the media who are] going to keep talking about it. That’s your job, so I’m not going to complain about it, that’s what you’ve got to do. But, for us, it’s even keel, it’s looking forward, it’s preparing and focusing on the next game, and working on things that you’ve got to work on. That’s it.”
With just one off day between games, the Kings know their road to recovery must be a short one, and they kept things positive during their meeting and practice. Nevertheless, they cannot totally forget about what happened.
“You can’t linger on what’s happened,” Murray noted. “You address it, you talk about it. You have a meeting and point out several key areas that you’re concerned about as a coaching staff, which we did. Now we’ve got to move on.”
“We have constant reviews of how we played, which I spoke to the coaching staff about this morning,” Murray added. “We edit the game down, we have a team meeting, and then, talk about what’s on my mind, and what I see.”
“We’re fine,” said Stoll. “It didn’t go our way last night, but it’s not our fourth loss, it’s our second one. We’ve got to come out with a big effort and redeem ourselves. That was our focus today. We had a good video session and a really good practice. Everyone was upbeat, very positive and excited about tomorrow to get right back at it.”
The Kings cannot survive in this series, or in any future playoff series this season, unless they adhere to their system and structure, which they got far, far away from in the second period of Game 3.
“It’s a long series, and we have Game 4 on Thursday,” Brown emphasized. “We definitely have to look at what happened in the second period and learn from it, because we don’t have the type of team that can take periods off.”
“We know we need to be better, and that we need to have a big game,” said Stoll. “When it was 4-0, we were making mistakes that we can’t make. It snowballed, and we didn’t have the composure to stop it. We will have that tomorrow night.”
Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell emphasized composure and sticking to their system.
“I’ve been around a little bit, I’ve been there,” said Mitchell. “I’ve been in adversity one way, and I’ve been on the receiving end. We’ve had a couple of bounces in this series, and they got a couple of bounces that started to bring life and momentum to them. When those things happen over the course of a series, you have to be on an even keel, stay patient, stick with what you’re doing, and not throw pucks away, or panic. Just kind of chill. Relax. That starts from the top [and runs] all the way to the bottom of our team.”
“There’s a few guys who’ve been around and have been in long [playoff] runs,” added Mitchell. “I’ve had some experience. I was in Minnesota when we were down, 3-1. We came back against a team we weren’t supposed to beat. When you play a smart, good team game—a team will beat individuals any day of the week. That was our identity, our blueprint, to beat a team that is more skilled than us. That’s our identity in here as a team, too. We’re a team that plays a smart, defensive game, and we got away from that just because we showed some immaturity in our game. We just need to be composed and stick with our [game]. We’re going to learn from it, and get back to the things we know that make us successful.”
Murray noted that the team’s leadership reacted well immediately after their embarrassing loss.
“We have a real good leadership group,” said Murray. “After the game, guys were talking as I walked in to address the team. I try to leave them a couple of minutes so they can do that, and get some stuff off their own chests.”
“Guys were pissed off,” added Murray. “They were saying the right things. It was the way a locker room should be. They were challenging each other to be better in the next game.”
The Kings were already itching to get back at it to redeem themselves.
“We’ve still got this game at home to get back on even ground,” said defenseman Matt Greene. “Then we go up there, and it’s a three-game series. This team is a lot different from last year’s team. The guys are a year older, and we’re missing some guys. It’s a different locker room. We’ve got to go out and establish our game plan tomorrow and win the game.”
“I think the guys are looking forward to the next one,” added Greene. “That was one where you feel like you played two games. You want another crack at’em right away. Nobody’s really tired after a game like that. Nothing really hurts too much because you just want to get back out there. The sting is still there. I bet every guys coming to practice today wishes that we were playing a game [tonight].”
“You get another chance to go out there and redeem yourself. That’s the best thing about [the playoffs], you get another crack.”
Staying positive is key, because the Kings know that despite the monumental loss, the series is far from over.
“Today, the guys woke up, dusted themselves off, and were prepared for practice today,” left wing Ryan Smyth. “We’re excited about tomorrow.”
“We’re in control of our own destiny. It’s a seven-game series. As a group in this locker room, we believe that we can win. It’s just a matter of competing from period to period. We can’t look past the first period tomorrow.”
Raw audio interviews
(Edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Jarret Stoll (2:45)
Matt Greene (1:47)
Willie Mitchell (3:03)
Ryan Smyth (1:47)
Terry Murray (9:31)
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