The fork in the road where the Kings turned it all around before they went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2012 was so much easier to identify and isolate.
They parted ways with Coach Terry Murray, strapped in and hopped aboard the Darryl Sutter Express in late 2011.
This particular campaign, placing the Kings within two games of winning another Stanley Cup championship, featured multiple defining moments, no lone Murray moment. Perhaps the biggest one of many came the last time the Kings played in the New York metro area, in November.
Starting goalie Jonathan Quick suffered a serious groin injury on Nov. 12 at Buffalo — an issue that would keep him out until early January. Kings fans were in a worried state, concerned the season was lost.
Not only did the Kings survive without their all-world goaltender, immediately after his injury, they swept all three New York/New Jersey-based teams, beating the New York Islanders, the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. Goalie Ben Scrivens, since traded to Edmonton, finished off the trip with consecutive shutouts of the Devils and the Rangers.
The Rangers' game, a 1-0 victory, was on Nov. 17 at Madison Square Garden. Those were the low-scoring games the Kings were once well-known for playing — Scrivens helped keep it that way, making 37 saves.
They would go on to allow the fewest goals in the NHL this regular season. With the Kings holding a two games-to-none lead over the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final, they've drifted from their tried-and-true defense-first philosophy.
They're like a dramatic actor turning into a comedian without warning. It's been fascinating and wildly entertaining. More so, it's been … well, un-Kings like.
"Are we playing good or are we not?" Kings center Jarret Stoll said on the podium, following their 5-4 double-overtime win in Game 2 at Staples Center. "Right now, we're doing a lot of things that aren't in our game, haven't been in our game for years here. We're getting away with it, I think, right now."
This was on Saturday after the Rangers had leads of two goals three times. Game 3 is Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
"Don't get me wrong, we did a lot of good things to come back," Stoll said. "Down 2-0, down 4-2. ... It's just how we're playing. We've got to be honest with how we're playing. We know we got more."
That thread of straight talk continued when the Kings reached New York on Sunday after a cross-country flight. Kings forward Justin Williams, the overtime hero of Game 1, said he had anticipated a much lower-scoring series. Williams turned playmaker with three assists in Game 2.
"Between the second and third [period] last night, we said, 'We're going to have win this game, 5-4, now,' " Williams said. "That's not like us usually, but it seems to be what we have to do. Whatever we have to do to win is what we're going to do.
"If we have to win 1-0 with an overtime victory, sure. If we have to score five goals to win a game, sure."
Williams won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 — knocking off the Edmonton Oilers. His current Kings teammates, Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene, were on that Edmonton team. For Williams, this Kings' run has a distinct retro feel.
"It had a similar type feel whereas you never feel you're out of it," he said. "Earlier on, especially this year when we've had trouble scoring goals, sometimes you might have felt like that. Now we feel that anything's possible out there.
"You get down two goals, doesn't matter. You get down three, I don't care. We're going to keep pushing. And the term '60-minutes plus' certainly applies."
Kings forward Marian Gaborik will be returning to Madison Square Garden for the first time since he was traded by the Rangers. Gaborik was moved to Columbus at the trade deadline in 2013 and then traded to the Kings at the deadline in March. He said coming back would be extra special in terms of atmosphere.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said the Garden was the "best" of the old-time buildings.
"I've been coming to Madison Square Garden for 30-some years," Sutter said. "I know it's been refurbished, but the fans are still the same. They love their team and they hate the other team. That's what you like. You like going into buildings that are like that. They're loud, they say they hate you, all those things, it's good."
Said Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault: "We need to hold serve. We're back in our building. We've played some good hockey. We might feel that we deserve a better outcome than what we have right now, which is trailing by two games. But it doesn't matter."
Vigneault split playoff series with the Kings when he coached the Vancouver Canucks, winning in 2010 and losing in 2012. He has dropped his last three playoff games to the Kings, all in overtime, the series-clinching game in 2012 and the first two of this Stanley Cup Final.
"Tomorrow is about as close as a 'must' game as I think you can have," he said at availability with reporters in New York. "Until you face elimination, that's as close as we can get."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times