Kings are thinking they can do this
The Kings did more Monday than ride a ferocious power play to their first home playoff victory in eight years and seize a 2-1 series lead over the Canucks entering Game 4 on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
When they overpowered Vancouver, they also graduated as a team from “hope” to “think” and put “know” firmly in their sights. And if you’re not familiar with General Manager Dean Lombardi’s team-building philosophy, here’s the translation.
Lombardi’s theory says athletes and teams start out by hoping they can win. As they enjoy small successes they begin to think they can win. When those small successes become significant and sustained, they approach each game knowing they can win.
The Kings have progressed to the stage of thinking they can win. Based on their performance against the third-seeded Canucks, there is no reason to doubt them.
“I think the sky’s the limit, really,” defenseman Jack Johnson said Tuesday. “I think this team will go as far as it lets itself go.”
The Kings must still evolve and adapt. Their power play has been a sensational seven for 12 in the series but they’ll have to be stronger five-on-five to take command of the series. As well as they’ve defended the Canucks’ top line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows, they’ll have to clamp down even harder.
But it’s not impossible. Ryan Smyth, who reached the 2006 Stanley Cup finals with Edmonton, called the Kings’ 5-3 victory Monday “a big pivotal point in this series and in our season,” and he doesn’t say such things lightly.
“In the first three games it’s been a battle. It’s been a sense of urgency,” he said. “I thought that the last game was really a sense of pushing it to another level.”
To him, it was the next step after confidence-building rallies the Kings had staged against the savvy Red Wings, erasing an early 2-0 deficit in a 3-2 victory Jan. 23 at Detroit and a 3-0 deficit in a 4-3 win at home Feb. 6.
“We’ve got a long ways to go yet but we’ve got to believe in this locker room that we’re a good team,” Smyth said. “I really do believe that. It showed last game. By no means are we done yet. It takes four to win it and it’s going to be hard.”
But not impossible while players continue to buy into the team-first concept.
While praising the devastating effectiveness of Johnson and Drew Doughty on the Kings’ first power-play unit, most people have forgotten they were paired several times during the season with far lesser results.
Why is their partnership working now?
It could be the self-assurance each got from playing in the Olympic gold medal finale, won by Doughty and Canada over Johnson and the U.S. Or it could be that each of these talented and strong-willed players has realized that together they can lead this franchise out of the playoff pits.
“They’re starting to read off each other much better. I’m seeing a lot more enthusiasm when good things happen. They’re celebrating now when goals are getting scored. They’re tapping each other on the pads. They’re playing hard for each other now,” Coach Terry Murray said.
“Maybe a little bit in the early part of the season it was trying to do a lot by yourself. ‘I got the ability. I have the talent.’ I don’t know if that may be the right thing to say but I kind of sense that. Right now it’s all about the team and they’re really happy for each other when something good happens.”
Putting the team first is the surest path from “think” to “know” on the Lombardi scale.
“That’s how your team becomes a winning team,” Murray said, “when everybody is looking at each other at the end of the day and saying, ‘Hey, I worked hard for you tonight. You’re my teammate.’ The old cliches. Battling for each other in the foxhole. That’s who I want to get in there with.
“Whenever the mentality of your group is about that at the end then you grow fast, you have success and you push it to the other side and you can end up being a championship team because of that. It has to come to that in order to get to the end result.”
The Kings probably are a player or two away from that happy end. But they’re well on their way. You can’t help but know it.