Kings defenseman Drew Doughty has won two Olympic gold medals and one Stanley Cup championship, but he has yet to live out the dream he acted out as a kid growing up in London, Canada.
Whether carrying the puck up ice or dodging defenders in his driveway, Doughty — like millions of other starry-eyed youngsters — would pretend he was about to be a hero in the biggest game any Canadian kid could imagine. "It's always Game 7, Stanley Cup Final," he said of those long-ago moments.
He didn't get to experience that drama during the Kings' 2012 Cup run because they were so dominant they never had to go that deep in a series. But Doughty and his teammates will plunge into a mystical, magical Game 7 moment Wednesday in San Jose, when they try to become only the fourth NHL team to win a best-of-seven playoff series after losing the first three games.
"We can treat this as the Stanley Cup Final. This game is huge," Doughty said Tuesday. "We can't get any further without a win, so I think that's how we're looking at it. This is the biggest game of our lives, of our careers, and there's no option but to win."
The Kings played a Game 7 against San Jose in the second round last season, but that series unfolded much differently. Last spring the Kings had home-ice advantage, and they don't have it this time. Each of their first two losses a year ago was by a 2-1 count — the first in overtime and the second in regulation — and this season they lost the first two games by a cumulative 13-5.
Each game of last season's series was won by the home team, but that hasn't happened this time. The Sharks won Game 3 at Staples Center in overtime and the Kings retaliated by blanking the Sharks in Game 5 at SAP Center on Saturday.
"It's not our most conventional way to go through a series," forward Mike Richards said, "but you've got to win, I guess, in different ways."
A potential benefit for the Kings of arriving at this point this way, after San Jose seemed in command, is that they might have bashed another deep dent into the Sharks' notoriously fragile playoff psyche. The Sharks have long had enormous talent but lacked heart when it mattered. The Kings in recent years have had more heart than pure skill, and they've blended that determination with superb goaltending and staunch team defense to create a winning formula.
Richards and Kings teammate Jeff Carter were members of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers team that rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the second round — and a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 — to defeat the Boston Bruins. Richards sees some parallels between that plucky team and the current Kings, but there are differences.
"We didn't lose as bad in the first couple games as we did here, but similar circumstances," Richards said. "We were close and we just started getting the bounces like we have been here and we started getting some opportunities. And probably not looking to go down 3-0 [Wednesday], but if it is that way, we're still going to fight till the bitter end and hopefully we can get that win."
They'll have to do it at the Shark Tank — recently renamed "The Cage" by Kings Coach Darryl Sutter — and feed off the energy of a hostile crowd to advance to a second-round series against the top-seeded Ducks.
Doughty, so energized about this Game 7 that he couldn't get much sleep after the 4-1 victory Monday that made this occasion necessary, said he won't be bothered by the "Beat L.A." chants that inevitably break out in San Jose at the sight of the Kings.
"I don't think it's the best chant I've ever heard," he said. "It's not even a good chant."
Now, those are fighting words.
But Doughty is right about this being a character-testing experience for the Kings, whose success the past few seasons has begun to counterbalance the first 40-plus unhappy years of their NHL existence.
Their Cup triumph, of course, remains the pinnacle, and it's to their credit that they reached the Western Conference final with a battered team last season. A victory Wednesday would rank among the top moments in the franchise's history and add to a growing list of positives for a franchise that has almost banished the ghosts of misfortunes like illegally curved sticks.