Series Review – How the Kings Won the Battle of California
Although the L.A Kings currently trail 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks in their Western Conference Final encounter, fighting through adversity and winning ugly has become a hallmark of the defending Stanley Cup champions. First there was the series with the Blues, losing the first two games in St Louis before winning four straight to advance. This comeback set up a second round contest with the predatory San Jose Sharks, a team brimming with confidence after sweeping the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round.
The ensuing series, pitting Californian rivals against each-other, featured a goaltender finding his Conn Smythe form, home advantage counting for everything, gargantuan hits every second and a Game Seven hero stepping up when it really mattered. This post takes a look back at the reasons the Kings defeated the Sharks, drawing parallels which may spark fear into the rampaging Blackhawks, even more so after L.A’s vital victory at Staples Centre yesterday.
NOTE: Unfortunately, as we are well past the conclusion of the series and – massive apologies to our readers for my horrific lateness – I haven’t found the time to do an in-depth review. Nonetheless, much like the Chicago/Detroit post, you can still find all the game highlights in one beautifully presented post right here, not to mention the Keys to the Series. ’Cos we do officially rock.
Key to the Series:
– Jonathan just too Quick. The Kings’ goaltender was simply outstanding throughout this series, and saved one his best displays for the Game Seven showdown. Although the Sharks received some stellar goaltending of their own, from Vezina Trophy finalist Antti Niemi, who posted a 1.86 goals against average and .940 save percentage for the series, even he couldn’t match the performance of Quick. Finishing with a 1.43 goals against average, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts, he had the San Jose forwards second-guessing themselves every stage and contributed significantly to their loss in form.
– Logan Couture injury. With the Sharks struggling for secondary scoring, they needed their top guys healthy and firing on all cylinders. What they got was Martin Havlat unable to take part in the series and a diluted version of Logan Couture. He had started the post-season in blistering form, with 11 points in eight games, but a foot injury plagued him throughout this series. Although he returned in Game Three to score the game-winner, a feat he then repeated in Game Four, he was pointless during the final three games, unable to compete at his usual level in terms of both push into the offensive zone and general strength.
– Kings depth prevailed. The Sharks received virtually nothing from beneath their top two lines, probably not helped by wide-spread injuries and the suspension of Raffi Torres after Game One, and other than Brent Burns, no player outside of their top five; Pavelski, Thornton, Marleau, Couture and Boyle, scored more than a single goal in the postseason. In stark contrast with L.A, where the Kings’ best lines have been extremely inconsistent and haven’t come close to matching their numbers from the playoff run last year. Despite that, they have eight players who have at least two goals in the postseason so far and in Slava Voynov, they have a player who in my opinion, along with Krug and Seabrook, has been one of the best defenceman in this year’s playoffs. Regularly rushing up ice to join his forwards on offence, he has contributed four goals so far, most of them coming at crucial times for his team.
– Home advantage. In the final game of the regular season, the Kings and Sharks met at Staples Centre in a game which decided their seeding for the postseason. L.A won 3-2 and that win now seems just as important as anything that happened in the second round itself. Both sides were tremendous in their own buildings, with San Jose winning all three games at home, but the deciding game being at Staples Centre was a huge boost for the Kings and the support they received spurred them on during tough spells. After beating Chicago yesterday, L.A have now won a franchise record 15-straight home games. Being behind in a series seems to hold no fear for the group, secure in the knowledge that their opponents will have to visit them during later games.
– Scoring first. In all seven games, the team who took the lead went on to record the win. In a series where games were impossibly close, the Justin Williams goal which tipped Game Seven in their favour was a key moment, giving L.A a much needed boost whilst San Jose looked beaten by the early stages of the second period and struggled to compete from behind.