EL SEGUNDO, CA — For the Los Angeles Kings, playing in the seventh game of a playoff series almost seems routine, a foregone conclusion. After all, they are about to play their second Game 7 in consecutive playoff series, already having won Game 7 in the first round against the San Jose Sharks.
Last season, the Kings also needed seven games to get past the Sharks in the second round of the playoffs.
As a team, the Kings are just 5-4 in Game 7’s in their history. But the current team, as individuals, has enjoyed great success in Game 7’s, earning a combined 52-7 record. That has helped make them comfortable and has them feeling very confident heading into Friday’s Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center in Anaheim.
“It’s obviously not a position you want to put yourself in as many times as we have,” said center Mike Richards, who is 5-0 in Game 7’s in his National Hockey League career. “But we’ve done a good job of staying in the moment, especially in the last series. Even last night, we had our backs against the wall, but we knew what we had to do. There wasn’t much that needed to be said. It was a pretty quiet room last night. Everyone was just ready to have a big game.”
“We have to have the same mindset, the same attitude tomorrow night—confidence and trust in one another, and be excited for the game,” added Richards. “[But] it’s just one game. You can bring confidence and excitement to the room, but at the end of the day, it’s just one game, and you have to play your best.”
“Every playoff series and every playoff game has its own sub-titles,” said right wing Justin Williams, who is also 5-0 in Game 7’s in his NHL career. “There’s different story lines to everything. I’ve been behind in a Game 7, and I’ve been ahead in a Game 7. I’ve been behind going into the third period in a Game 7. I hope [we] get the first goal tomorrow, but if we don’t, no big deal. We’ll write a different story.”
Much of that confidence comes from winning the 2012 Stanley Cup Championship.
“When you’ve done special things together, you have the confidence to do that again,” Richards explained. “It’s a big thing in the playoffs when you’re down in a game, down in the series, but you’ve been though comebacks and good things with the guy beside you. That’s a good thing to lean on. It’s a nice feeling to have, that you have confidence to do whatever is needed to win.”
“When [you’ve gone] to the top of the mountain, you have that inner arrogance that you know what it takes to win,” Williams noted. “That’s something that not a lot of teams have. That’s something we’ve got to harness tomorrow and believe.”
“It comes with the attitude of the players, the chemistry and the make-up of the team that makes you believe that you can win,” Williams added. “It’s an attitude within a person—you don’t shrivel when push comes to shove. You want to get your peacock feathers out and you want to prove that you can do it, and you want to have the puck on your stick while you do it.”
While the Kings are comfortable and confident in Game 7’s, that doesn’t mean they are in a totally serene state of mind.
“There’s always a little bit of nerves, but I think, for every game, there should be a little bit of excitement, a little bit of nerves,” said center Jarret Stoll. “But Game 7’s are fun. They’re fun for everybody—players, coaches, fans, the media. It’s what it’s all about. You play to win one game, win a series, go onto the next round, win a championship, whatever. When you have a best-of-seven, or best-of-five, or whatever, when it comes down to one, single game, it’s pretty exciting.”
“It’s been a great series,” added Stoll. “It should go down to Game 7.”
Game 7’s are often what dreams are made of.
“It’s always Game 7,” Williams said of playing hockey as a kid. “It’s usually the Stanley Cup Finals, too. But it’s the same thing as in any other sport. It’s the last second of the game when the buzzer [sounds]. It’s the ninth inning, two outs, or a football game, fourth quarter, last play. It’s everything. It’s you or them, and that’s what you relish as a kid—coming out on top.”
That goes for coaches, too.
“You’ve heard me say this,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “You coach for the playoffs. Anybody who doesn’t coach for the playoffs is just coaching for a job. It’s the only reason I still coach—for the playoffs.”
“That’s why there are seven-game series,” added Sutter. “Most series go six games. Game 7 becomes a defining moment.”
Home Ice Doesn’t Mean Much
Much has been said over the years about the importance of home ice advantage. But in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, five series have gone to seven games, and the road team has won four of the five Game 7’s.
Further, in the series between the Kings and the Ducks, both teams have won twice in the other team’s building.
“Home ice isn’t that big of a deal,” Stoll observed. “If you have the right attitude, have the right mindset, have the right bunch of guys to go into a tough building, play well, battle out a game, [and win], I don’t think [home ice] really matters.”
“This series has shown that home ice has not had a dramatic effect on the home team at all,” Sutter noted. “I think we play just as well in Anaheim as we have in L.A. You just don’t always get the results you want.”
“The reason you play [the sixth and seventh] games [in a series] is usually because the teams are so evenly matched, so it just comes down to, maybe, one specific moment in a game,” Sutter added. “One play, one mistake, one call, one bad bounce. Actually, if you go though some of those Game 6’s and Game 7’s, that’s what it comes down to.”
Sutter indicated that today’s NHL arenas have severely reduced a team’s advantage at home.
“I’ve said this a lot in the last few years, with all the newer buildings, because there’s not a big change in the glass, boards or ice,” he noted. “In the old days, when there were different size surfaces and different types of boards—all those things. Now they’re so generic that, other than the crowd, it doesn’t matter where you play or who the home team is.”
The Task At Hand
The Kings, arguably, put in their best defensive performance on the 2014 playoffs in Game 6 against Anaheim on May 14.
More of the same is needed if they expect to win Game 7 tomorrow night.
“What helped us last night was when they scored the goal, [we didn’t] let [our play] slide,” Richards observed. “We moved pucks out of our zone pretty quick, and when you do that, you don’t have to play in your zone.”
“That’s the biggest thing—make the simple play, move the puck up the ice, and hit the open guy,” Richards added. “That’s a pretty simple formula, but it’s not as easy as it may sound.”
The Ducks will do whatever they can to disrupt what the Kings want to do, something they have had some success at in this series.
“Give credit where credit is due,” said Richards. “It’s a tough forecheck to break because they come with a lot of speed. But I think, last night, it was winger-defenseman-center and out of the zone. When you have that, you don’t have tired guys on the ice because you’re always going up the ice. That’s a big thing because they have a lot of speed, and if you get caught out there tired, it just seems like they’re coming at you full speed, which they do a lot.”
“They’re going to get chances,” added Richards. “They’re going to get momentum in the game, at some points, and we’re going to do the same thing. We just have to limit the roller coaster—not be too high, and not be too low.”
As always, a good start is critical.
“[We have to] focus on [our] start,” said Stoll. “Worry about getting [off to] a good start, everybody into the game right away, and try to establish [our] full team game as quickly as possible.”
“We just have to play our simple, smart game that’s gotten us a lot of wins on the road over the course of the regular season and the playoffs,” added Stoll.
Lewis Stepping Up Again
When one thinks of forward Trevor Lewis, the words, “goal scorer” are probably not the first thing that comes to mind.
It is safe to say that Lewis will never be a prolific goal scorer in the NHL, nor is it likely that he will ever be thought of as a clutch playoff performer.
Nevertheless, Lewis has established a reputation of stepping up his game in the post-season. To illustrate, in the 2011-12 regular season, he scored three goals and added four assists for seven points in 72 games. But in the playoffs, he scored three goals and tallied six assists for nine points in twenty games, helping the Kings win the 2012 Stanley Cup.
This season, Lewis is at once again, scoring four goals in 13 playoff games, after scoring six goals in 73 regular season games.
Lewis’ contributions on the scoresheet are important, but for the role he plays for the Kings, it’s not a priority.
“Lewis does a lot than just score goals,” said Sutter. “Would we be happy if he scored goals? Absolutely. He scored the game-winner last night. But he’s comfortable with his role and what he brings. We’re usually quite happy with that.”
Although the occasional goal certainly helps, Lewis is counted on primarily for his strong defensive play, penalty-killing and forechecking abilities.
“I have a lot of trust in Trevor,” added Sutter. “It doesn’t matter if he’s scoring or not. We can move him all over the lineup. He’s played left wing the last two games, he played center the game before that. He played right wing every game before that. It’s not just about scoring.”
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