EL SEGUNDO, CA — On the eve of Game 7 of their Western Conference Semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings were very much aware of the potentially final nature of tonight’s game at Staples Center in Los Angeles (6:00 PM PDT, NBC Sports Network, TSN, RDS).
“This is it,” said center Anze Kopitar. “Either you live on, or you’re done with the season. I think everybody is going to take responsibility, and obviously, I’m certainly one of them. I’m going to try and pull the team behind me.”
“We want to make sure we leave everything out there, and give ourselves the best chance to win,” added Kopitar. “We’re a confident group. We know we can get it done. We’ve done it a bunch of times already. Now it’s just a matter of going out and performing to our standards.”
“Let’s be honest. We haven’t done that [consistently]. There’s no better time to do it than [tonight].”
Center Colin Fraser noted that Game 7 will be a dogfight against a team that will be ready to go, and at the top of their game.
“They’re going to bring their best game,” said Fraser. “It’s forty guys fighting for the same spot, the same thing. It all comes down to the old cliché: who wants it more? Hopefully, we want it more.”
“Two pretty evenly matched teams, all season long,” added Fraser. “We’re excited about it. It’s good to have it on home ice, that’s for sure. We’ve just got to use it to our advantage.”
Kings winger and captain Dustin Brown emphasized attention to detail, and each player doing whatever it takes to be ready at the first drop of the puck.
“In a game like this, it comes down to the details of the game,” said Brown. “When we’re on our game, doing all those little things, that’s when our game kind of takes care of itself. It comes down to individual preparation, and getting yourself ready. I’ve got to do what I need to do to get myself ready to play.”
Much has been made of the fact that the Kings do not have a lot of players who have played in a seventh game in the NHL playoffs. Despite the lack of experience in that regard, Brown indicated they have plenty of experience in crucial, deciding games.
“We’ve been in enough big games, as a group, to understand what we’re going into,” he noted. “We have all day [on Monday], and [this] morning, to get in the right [frame of mind] to play the game.”
“You’ve also got guys who’ve played in the equivalent of a Game 7, like in the Olympics,” he added. “[Defenseman Drew] Doughty, [center Mike] Richards—guys have had experience in big games.”
“If you look at our group of guys, they’ve won final games in the World Juniors, World Championships, and the Olympics. Those are Game 7’s. It’s a matter of using that experience to get yourself ready.”
Fraser stressed his team’s playoff experience.
“Everybody has played in big games, this team played in the Stanley Cup Final,” he noted. “That wasn’t Game 7, but it was the Final. Big, big games. We’ve just got to bring it for Game 7.”
“I think it’s more playoff experience versus Game 7 experience,” he added. “You don’t change the way you play. You don’t change the way you think, you don’t change your systems, or anything like that. You approach it the same way you always have, from Game 1, right through Game 7.”
Getting ready for a Game 7 is one thing. But with the added attention in a Game 7, the extra excitement, and the knowledge that it’s “win or go home,” as Brown said on Monday, it would not be difficult to get a bit too excited.
Indeed, cool, calm and collected is the way to go.
“[You have to] just block it out [the hype] as much as you can, and just worry about preparation and getting focused for the game,” said Kopitar. “It’s not like it’s different from any other game that you have to get ready for. It’s sticking to your routine, and going from there.”
“You’ve got to approach it like any other game,” said Fraser. “Obviously, it’s a big game, but if you’re too nervous, that’s when you get yourself into trouble, and you come out a little bit flat. You want to be loose, and you’ve got to bring your best game. We know they’re going to bring their best game, so we’ve got to be prepared to do that.”
Brown also stressed the need to be level-headed.
“It’s finding that even keel,” said Brown. “You don’t want to be too amped up. Sometimes, that can go against you. You just want to try to approach it like every other game. You don’t want to be too over the top aggressive, or sitting back, waiting for something to happen. You want to find that middle ground.”
“The worst thing, going into a Game 7, is being uptight and stressed out about it,” added Brown. “You should be loose and excited about playing in a game like [tonight]. It’s an opportunity to move on, but also, when you get into a game like this, it’s where heroes are made, and you come together, as a group.”
“It’s another game,” said Kopitar. “We realize that it’s a do-or-die game, but I don’t think anything changes. You’ve got to prepare the same way. You have the same routine that I’ve been doing for ten years.”
As it always seems to be in the National Hockey League these days, a good start is crucial, and it is something the Kings did not do in Game 6 in San Jose on May 26.
“We weren’t ready to start the game,” Fraser lamented. “We lost in their building again, but the good thing is that we’re coming home for Game 7, which is huge. That’s what we have to take advantage of.”
Indeed, given that the team that has scored the first goal has won each game in this series, a good start is a requirement.
“You’ve got to do it right, you’ve got to play well,” Fraser noted. “It’s getting off to a good start, being ready right off the hop.”
But the Kings have shot themselves in the foot by taking penalties in this series, often early in games.
Giving the second-best power play in the NHL, among teams still playing in the playoffs, time to work their magic is, to put it mildly, unwise.
“We found out what happens in Game 6,” said Fraser. “With three games in their building, [San Jose] won, all by one goal, all were power play goals [actually, T.J. Galliardi’s goal in Game 6 was an even strength marker]. Their power play is their bread and butter. They’ve got some pretty good players who thrive on the power play, so we’ve definitely got to stay out of the box.”
“Some of the penalties we took were at the start of periods,” said Kopitar. “Maybe they were the result of not being ready to go. In the good starts we’ve had, we didn’t take any penalties. We have to make sure [we get off to] a good start, and that we dictate tempo.”
The Kings are hoping that playing Game 7 against the Sharks at Staples Center will give them an edge.
“I know the importance of winning a series is always better at home, not so much Game 7, but winning a series, because you just might get, at one point, one center against [a particular opposing center], or defenseman-forward match up that you want,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “That might be the biggest advantage.”
“It’s changed so much from before the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, in terms of the advantage of home ice,” added Sutter. “They basically took it out, other than the two or three times when coaches can impact during the game, and that’s basically what you look for.”
Game 7’s Are Like Nothing Else
Especially in hockey, there is a mystique surrounding the seventh game of a playoff series.
Indeed, for those who grew up in cold climates who played hockey on frozen ponds, or any locale where road hockey or pick up roller hockey is played, the game was often Game 7, probably in the Stanley Cup Final.
“There’s always a Game 7 in the backyard,” said Kopitar.
When Kopitar was much younger, his father, Matjaž, played for the national team in Slovenia, and for Yugoslavia, prior to Slovene independence in June 1991.
“I just wanted to be like my old man,” Kopitar explained. “He had a couple of good Game 7’s when he was playing for the national title. They were in the shootout back then. It was not sudden death. He scored in Game 7, in the shootout. He had two goals in regulation, and the shootout winner.”
But tonight’s Game 7 is not going to be played on a pond or a street. Indeed, the stakes are, obviously, much higher.
“We always played Game 7’s [in pond or road hockey],” Sutter noted. “But the difference, when you’re doing it at a higher level, is that there’s a little bit of attrition involved, and there’s a little bit of not having everybody at 100 percent. That’s the advantage of a shorter series.”
“When you’re playing road hockey, you’re always playing a Game 7, right? I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” said Brown. “I know a lot of other guys are looking forward to the opportunity in a game like [tonight]. It’s more about getting into the right [frame of mind].”
“As a captain, I have to [come out with] my ‘A’ game,” added Brown. “That’s the one thing I can do to help them win. I try to lead by example. For us to win, we need everyone, and our best players need to be our best players [tonight].”
Kopitar provided the quote of the day when he was asked if, when he was younger, playing in a Game 7 meant as much to him as it does for Canadians.
“I’ve got blood under my skin, just like the Canadian kids do,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any different over in Europe, either. Everybody wants to be in these types of games, you want to raise the level of play, and eventually, you want to be the hero in these types of games.”
“It’s going to take a great effort [tonight], and we’re looking forward to it,” he added. “Personally, it’s my first Game 7. It should be fun.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Anze Kopitar (3:55)
Colin Fraser (4:38)
Dustin Brown (8:07)
Darryl Sutter (5:08)
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