Kings follow rules of playoff success, chapter and verse
The gospel of successful playoff hockey, according to Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, is indisputable.
“Goaltenders, special teams, top players, unsung heroes and discipline. Write it down and don’t forget it,” he said.
“It’s true. It’s part of the hockey bible. I’ve seen it for 35 years, live.”
He saw it again during their five-game elimination of the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, a series the Kings ended Sunday with a 2-1 overtime victory at Rogers Arena.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was better than Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, compiling a 1.59 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. The Kings’ penalty killing was tireless. Top-tier players Dustin Brown (four goals, five points), Anze Kopitar (one goal, four points), Justin Williams (four points) and Drew Doughty were standouts.
Fourth-liners Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis scored key goals, as did underachiever Dustin Penner. The Kings as a team took 53 penalty minutes while the Canucks racked up 94 and lost forward Byron Bitz to a two-game suspension for a head shot that knocked Kings winger Kyle Clifford out of the series.
They got it right chapter and verse, and on Monday they rested while waiting for the NHL to formulate the schedule for their second-round series against the St. Louis Blues.
Players kept a good perspective on the franchise’s first playoff series win since 2001 and their first as a group following six-game losses to Vancouver in 2010 and San Jose a year ago.
At least this much was expected of them last summer when General Manager Dean Lombardi signed Simon Gagne and acquired Mike Richards, but their offense was stale and their growth stunted under Terry Murray, who was fired in mid-December. If the path they traveled was more perilous than it should have been, it also boosted their confidence that they could overcome obstacles without splintering or losing their belief in themselves.
“It feels great. It’s always fun and exciting to move on in the playoffs,” said center Jarret Stoll, whose decisive wrist shot in sudden-death play Sunday was made possible by Lewis’ fine defensive effort in forcing a Vancouver turnover.
“You don’t play the game to just win one playoff series, though. You play the game to win and win the whole thing. We realize there’s a lot of work ahead of us still, but it feels great just to look back. And the importance of this series win with so many guys that haven’t won a series before on our team, and the organization not winning one in the past 11 years, so it’s pretty special.”
Sutter hadn’t won a playoff series as a coach since 2004, when he guided the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup finals. He didn’t forget how to coach in the interim. Nor did he forget to credit the legacy Murray left in molding the Kings into a cohesive defensive team. During the charter flight home Sunday, Sutter said he told assistant coach John Stevens that “Terry Murray is just as important to winning this series as anybody.”
“Because he was a good coach. That’s always what happens,” Sutter said. ‘The coach takes responsibility when players don’t perform. He put a lot in place the last two or three years.”
True enough. But Sutter has taken them to the next level and the next round by defining players’ roles and valuing each one’s contributions. “Making everyone feel like they’re just as important as our most skilled guy,” Stoll said.
And each one — Stoll, first-line center Anze Kopitar, steady defenseman Rob Scuderi, speedy forward Richardson, forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter — will have to play important roles against the Blues, the only team that gave up fewer goals than the Kings this season.
The Blues are big and bruising, boasting two formidable scoring lines and a young, mobile defense. Center David Backes, a 2010 U.S. Olympic teammate of Brown and Quick, is a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward. Ken Hitchcock, who succeeded Davis Payne as coach 13 games into the season, is a top contender for coach-of-the-year honors.
Stoll has been a King only four seasons but is a student of their too-desolate playoff past and spoke respectfully of their last real significant playoff moment: the 2001 overtime goal by Adam Deadmarsh that gave the Kings a first-round victory over Detroit.
“But us as a group right now, right here, we want to make our own history and make our own story lines and follow through with what we feel we have — a really, really good team — and don’t let this chance slip away,” Stoll said.
Determination has a place in the hockey bible too.
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