VIDEO INTERVIEWS: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene and Alec Martinez, along with forward Trevor Lewis and head coach Darryl Sutter spoke with the media prior to the team departing on their flight to Vancouver on April 5. You can watch videos of those interviews here!
EL SEGUNDO, CA — After winning both games during their two-game home stand that ended with a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on April 4, the Los Angeles Kings held an optional skate on April 5, before flying north of the border to begin a three-game Canadian road trip that will likely decide their playoff fate.
Tonight, the Kings face the Vancouver Canucks, who are in second place in the Pacific Division with 95 points. They are still within reach of the Kings, who have 92 points and a game in hand on the Canucks.
The Kings skate at Edmonton the following night, and close out the trip in another critical game against the Calgary Flames, currently third in the division, one point ahead of the Kings, who also have a game in hand on the Flames.
Indeed, everything is very, very likely to come down to this road trip for the Kings.
“It’s really important,” said defenseman Matt Greene. “This is our season, right here. It’s getting into the playoffs, and extending our playing time. It’s huge.”
With all that’s at stake, the Kings should not have any difficulty finding motivation.
“Guys have played in big, pressure situations,” Greene noted. “Everybody in here has done it, growing up or here, so you’re ready to go, once the puck drops.”
“This is crunch time, so if you’re having a hard time getting up for a game or finding an edge, then you’ve got a problem,” said defenseman Alec Martinez. “We’ve got to win these hockey games, regardless of the opponent, regardless of how many times we’ve played them this year. This is the way the schedule works out. You play teams the same amount of times. We’ve got to win hockey games.”
Martinez noted that despite dominating their last two opponents (Edmonton Oilers and the Avalanche), there is always room for improvement.
“We’ve played a pretty good team game, but there are some things that we could definitely clean up,” he noted. “When we’re on our game, we’re getting pucks deep, and not trying to make some of those fancy plays in the neutral zone. You can’t [commit] turnovers and create opportunities for the other team.”
Greene shared a similar view about getting pucks deep into the attacking zone.
“That’s where we want to be—at the other team’s blue line, and having our forwards do a lot of the work,” Greene emphasized. “We’re successful when we establish that cycle game [deep in the offensive zone]. You get a lot of offense from those types of games.”
Starting a crucial three-games-in-four-nights road trip, the Kings know that they cannot afford to look beyond their next opponent, their next game.
“We’ve just to got to take it one game at a time, and focus on our own game,” Martinez stressed.
The Bigger Playoff Picture
At this time of year, especially with fans of National Hockey League teams that are still fighting for a playoff spot constantly watching the league scores and standings, agonizing over every point earned or lost by their team, or by other teams still in the hunt, most lose sight of something that is so readily apparent…
…this is exactly what the league wanted.
Indeed, prior to the institution of the league salary cap, the playoff races in both conferences were generally not nearly as tight as they have been in recent years, especially in the Western Conference.
For the Kings, it’s been a dogfight to the end just about every year over the past handful of seasons.
“Ever since I’ve been here, it’s been really tight in the West,” said Martinez. “You have to be playing playoff hockey before the playoffs even start.”
It also means that players and coaches are keeping an eye on the league standings.
“We look at [the standings] every day,” Greene noted. “You have to know where you stand, especially right now. Things are always changing, whether you’re playing or not, so you’ve got to make sure you’re keeping pace with all the scenarios going on, and you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on around the league.”
“This time of year, you’ve got to know what’s happening around you, and guys want to win,” Greene added.
But again, although most people are locked into their favorite team’s particular playoff scenarios, it is very easy to ignore the bigger impact of these tight, nail-biter playoff races.
“It’s great for the game,” said forward Trevor Lewis. “Fans are into it, not just for the playoffs. They’re into it for the whole year, just for [their] team to make the playoffs. I think it’s good for the whole game.”
The down-to-the-wire playoff races keep interest high, and they build it up even higher among hardcore and casual fans alike—it heightens awareness and increases interest levels, which bodes well for a professional sports league that is still a niche sport in the United States.
“As a fan, it keeps everybody interested,” said Greene. “A lot of teams are still [in the hunt] right now, and there’s really good parity throughout the league. That’s a good thing for the fans, that’s what the league wants to be going on.”
Of course, the players have more important concerns.
“For us, there’s no easy games,” Lewis stressed. “Everyone’s good enough to make the playoffs now. There’s no nights off. Especially for us, too, I think, after winning [the Stanley Cup] last year, everyone’s coming for us, but it’s good. It keeps [us focused], and it [ensures] that we have to play a consistent game to win.”
“As a player, you want to establish your playoff spot early on,” Greene noted. “That’s what the regular season is for—to be able to get it done, have success, and secure that spot. We’ve got to work a little harder.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography
Post-Practice Interviews, April 5, 2015 via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube
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If Kings win their last 4 games they clinch 2nd place in their division and home ice for at least the first round. Unbelievable, as they can easily lose all 4 and not make playoffs at all.