Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings protects the pucks against Ben Lovejoy of the Anaheim Ducks during Monday's Game 5 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series at the Honda Center in Anaheim. 'I love these opportunities, I love the pressure,' says Doughty, the Olympic tournament all-star, of playing in an elimination game. 'I know I'm going to be counted upon, and in order for us to win I've got to be at the top of my game.'
Photograph by: Jeff Gross, Getty Images
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Kings are 4-0 in elimination games this year — the "0" goes without saying, otherwise they'd be golfing — and defenceman Drew Doughty is 7-0, three of them with Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics.
So while no one on the Kings is saying "we love playing with our heels hanging over the edge of the cliff," the 2012 Stanley Cup champs do have a certain degree of comfort with their plight.
Not happiness, maybe, but familiarity, and knowledge, and recent experience of what has to be done and not done to come from behind — in this case, to stop a three-game losing streak and avoid being shelved by the Anaheim Ducks, who lead the SoCal Freeway Series 3-2 with Game 6 at Staples Centre on Wednesday evening.
You can hear it in the Kings' voices. They are calm, confident, almost cocky.
"Yeah, you know what, I think I've been through it more than any of them," said head coach Darryl Sutter. "At the end of the day there's probably not many coaches that have been in as many (elimination) games, so that's something I'm comfortable with."
It is nothing to be afraid of, he said.
"I'd rather be playing a Game 6 in May than be playing Game 82 on the 15th of April and saying, 'Oh, I can't wait to watch the playoffs.'
"Teams are close, and as a coach, you go in expecting to win every game. If you don't, you shouldn't be in this league. And we've been down that road. We go in expecting to win every game. Obviously that doesn't happen, or someone would go 82-0 and someone would go 16-0. But if you have that mindset, it's a good one to have."
"Championship blood in their veins, most of them," Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Kings, the other day, and that organizational pluck was very much in evidence again Monday night, late in Game 5, when the Kings put the pedal down and had the home team under siege and almost erased a 4-1 deficit.
It doesn't alter the fact that the Ducks were having their way with the Kings until late in the second period, and have had for stretches of this series — nor does it change the advantage. They are still the ones with the lead, the ones who are a single victory away from going to the conference final.
But they're wary.
"We know they've already been through (four) elimination games and been successful. They were down 2-0 to St. Louis the year before.They've got so much pride and championship blood that it's just going to take a perfect game to do it in their building," said Boudreau.
"I would venture to guess that people are still thinking they're the favourites to win the series, because of what they've done in the past."
The Kings, though, lost three straight to San Jose to start the playoffs, then won six in a row, and now have a three-game losing streak again.
It speaks to a consistency problem. They are thin on defence, and especially so when the six healthy bodies they have make mistakes — Jake Muzzin falling in the corner on the first Anaheim goal Monday, Alec Martinez putting a perfect tape-to-tape pass on Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf's stick, leading to the third one.
"We're trying to maximize what we've got in the lineup. Maybe we've played as good as we can. Maybe we have," said Sutter.
"The goal last night after the power play (by Devante Smith-Pelly, after the Martinez giveaway), when you talk about consistency, well, you got some guys who are having to play different situations and extra minutes now — and if they weren't playing they'd be bitching and moaning 'cause they weren't.
"So when they do, there's an old rule about skate-pass-shoot: just execute, you know? Just do it. Just maximize your skill set."
The most eager King in the building — unless it's goalie Jonathan Quick — may be Doughty, the cornerstone of the L.A. defence, who relishes the pressure he knows will be on him from here on in.
"I love these opportunities, I love the pressure," said the Olympic tournament all-star. "I know I'm going to be counted upon, and in order for us to win I've got to be at the top of my game. I still don't think I've played my absolute best this series, so I'm going to need to do it at home tomorrow.
"We don't like (the situation), obviously, but it's not like we're panicking. We're not going to play so desperate where, you know, you can actually play too desperate, and run around trying to do too much. So because we're comfortable, we know exactly how desperate to play, and we're just going to show how badly we want it. It comes down to how hungry we are, and how much heart our team has, and that's how we're going to win this game.
"We can't take even one shift off. If you take one shift off against that Getzlaf line they're going to make you pay for it. So, we need to play full 60 minutes, shift by shift, second by second, and that's how we're going to win."
On the other hand, the Ducks have won both their games at Staples Center in this series. But they're aware of the Kings' resourcefulness, and of their own occasional frailties.
"The first round, we're very conscious of what happened, both with them and with us against Dallas," said Anaheim defenceman Ben Lovejoy. "We came out and played maybe our worst game in Game 6. We weren't ready, we were down 3-1 right away and it was a miraculous comeback. We probably didn't deserve to win that game, it probably should have gone to Game 7.
"We know this Kings team is as resilient as you're going to get. They've all won Stanley Cups, they know what they're doing. They're not going to panic and we need to come out and play our best game tomorrow night."
Each team's best game has had the other on the ropes at times in the series. But only one team is all out of margin for error.
"It's two good hockey clubs," Sutter said. "Basically other than the empty-netter they're all one-goal games. And we need to get the one more tomorrow night."
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