As the Kings threaten to reverse the outcome of last year's five-game Western Conference finals elimination against the Chicago Blackhawks, the difference appears to be the Kings' attention to detail.
The Kings are playing smarter, being more attentive to the game's finer points and are making better decisions situation to situation.
If they were to win Game 5 Wednesday at United Center, the Kings would reach their second Stanley Cup final in three years and eliminate the defending NHL champion.
"When you go against a team like Chicago, they're highly skilled, but we feel like we can play with them," Kings center Jeff Carter said Tuesday afternoon upon his team's arrival in the Windy City.
"If we're going to beat them, we've got to show up in all areas of the game. That includes thinking, doing the right things, reading plays right. Whatever it takes."
The Kings' commitment to being better in the minutiae extends to faceoffs.
Thanks mostly to centers Jarret Stoll and Anze Kopitar, they've won 137 faceoffs to the Blackhawks' 109, helping to kill 11 of 13 penalties against the league's 10th-best regular-season power-play unit.
"It takes 15-20 seconds off the clock [and it's] easier to kill 1:40 than 2:00," Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said. "It goes a long way and is something the guys are doing well."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter dissected how his team has simplified a woeful 27th-best power play in the regular season to score on five of 12 power plays in this series.
"First of all, you have to have the puck," Sutter said. "The big thing is try to win the faceoff and get possession, then not over-pass the puck. There's an old-time [saying] about, 'Not passing the puck into the net.' Sometimes, guys — skill players, top-end guys — pass it around and go past their best opportunity.
"So you try to keep them to one or two passes, [study] where to shoot from, where the other team's tendencies are, and make sure someone is always in front of the net. Every goal we scored, it was set up with the goalie screened."
After surviving six elimination games in the first two playoff rounds, the Kings are cruising, thanks to grunt work such as blocking 60 shots to Chicago's 35 in the last three games.
"We've had some decent looks and all of a sudden you get a stick or a block," Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville told reporters Tuesday.
On the other end, the Kings concentrate on blocking the goalie's vision. In Monday's 5-2 victory at Staples Center, Carter stood statue-like in front of Chicago's Corey Crawford, setting a perfect screen that let defenseman Jake Muzzin blast the first goal.
Then, instead of pounding Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith to the boards, Kopitar opted to steal the puck from Keith and slip a pass/shot toward the goal that Marian Gaborik deflected past Crawford.
Now comes the chance to ice it.
"We're in a good place, understanding we're playing a good hockey team and will get their full charge," Sutter said.
Quenneville said he's telling his team, "You're down 3-1, you're at home, you got nothing to lose. … We want to make sure we're playing a game, 'Hey, let's play all out. Have fun in our building. And let's recapture the momentum.'"
He had 29 goals and 40 assists in the regular season, but Chicago forward Patrick Kane has been restricted to one assist in this series, and the move to put him on the same line with captain Jonathan Toews fell flat Monday.
Sutter said the Kings well remember it was Kane whose double-overtime goal eliminated them last year, but they also have high respect for his ability and watch him by committee, with defenseman Drew Doughty doing most of the heavy lifting.
"Really, we haven't shut him down," Sutter said. "He's had some glorious opportunities. … You just want to find ways from letting them having a big game."
Kings forward Trevor Lewis said the Kings know, "You give [Kane] open ice, he can do a lot of dangerous things. A key is to limit his time and space and try to get on him, make him make a play before he wants to."
The Kings advanced through San Jose (ranked fifth in the NHL with 249 regular-season goals) and the Ducks (No. 2 with 266) before meeting top-scoring Chicago.
"There's a lot of teams in our [conference] that are skilled offensively,' Quick said. "Chicago has a ton of skill. Anaheim was one of the top scoring teams, San Jose is. You get used to playing these teams."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times