To change team's path, all L.A. has to do is win
Los Angeles Kings are looking to build something intangible, while the New
Jersey Devils are looking to re-summon it.
Backed by a 3-2 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final but returning to home ice
having lost the momentum stored through three-plus rounds of playoff dominance,
the Kings don't have the ability to recall the experiences and organizational
attitude-shifting gained from having won multiple Stanley Cups over a bookended
time frame. The Devils have that ability, as do the Red Wings and to a lesser
degree the Avalanche, while the Penguins and Bruins are perhaps there on the
Though rosters change, the expectations within these teams' locker rooms do
Forwards Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora, along with goalie Martin Brodeur, have
won Cups in New Jersey as players, as has special assignments coach Scott
Stevens. Assistant coach Larry Robinson won in a similar capacity with New
Jersey in 1995 and 2003 in addition to piloting the 2000 Devils to the Stanley
Cup; he also won six times as a defenseman in Montreal. In his 18th season as
part of the organization, special assignments coach Jacques Caron's name has
been written on the Cup three different times as the team's goaltending coach.
Under president and CEO Lou Lamoriello, the longest-tenured general manager in
the league, New Jersey has instilled in its identity and has imparted to
players rising through its system that Stanley Cups are to be expected, that
playoff success be the defining principle.
"I think it's a testament to character, to gut check, to leadership in the
room, all those things," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of his team's
resurgence in the Final. "That's when the rubber hits the road, so to
speak, for your season and for your team."
Ask any Kings fan what their mood will be when they walk into Staples Center on
Monday, and you'll get a spectrum of emotion from "excited but
nervous" to "guarded" to "oh please just win and let this
be over with tonight".
Who could blame them? This is a franchise that has recoiled from arbitrary
injustice — whether by virtue of the curvature of a stick or Craig Muni — for
much of its 45 years. In unfamiliar developments that place them one win away
from the Stanley Cup against a momentum-gaining, championship-expecting team
building a reputation of improving deeper in series, ominous thoughts have
begun creeping back into Kings fans' minds for the first time since early in
the Vancouver series.
And the great thing about this? The Kings can erase all of it by winning a
hockey game Monday night.
"If somebody would have told us that we were going to go up 3-2 going home
to have the chance to close it out, I think everybody would sign that
paper," Anze Kopitar said.
No other Kings game in history has the potential to cause such a tectonic shift
in the competitive evaluation of a franchise that had won one conference
championship and one divisional title prior to 2012. A nondescript history?
Three periods of focused and determined hockey have the ability to change that.
It does not add any extra pressure to a team that will now have its third
opportunity to finally put away its opponent.
"I think the only pressure you have is the pressure that's in the dressing
room, looking at the guy beside you, see how hard he's worked," Mike
Richards said. "It's something you want to do for him, not for everybody
else that's trying to put the pressure on you. We put a lot of pressure on each
other as players. We expect the best of each other. I'd rather have
the guy beside me expect the best than going out there thinking I'm going to be
"There's a lot of pressure we put on ourselves, but we don't get a lot of
pressure from outside."
The team is 9-3 all-time at home in Game 6, though its final games of the 2010
and 2011 playoffs came at home to the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in
a pair of Game 6's that averaged 6.5 goals between the teams. Los Angeles
should expect a much more low-scoring affair Monday.
The team would certainly benefit with some offense from Richards, who has taken
only one shot in each of the last three games and has scored once in his last
11. Dustin Brown, who hasn't scored since his Game 1 game-winner in Phoenix,
has been unable to make his mark on a series after finding himself in seemingly
every playoff conversation when playing against Vancouver, St. Louis and
Other than the first seven minutes of Game 5, this hasn't been the most
run-and-gun of playoff series, and considering parts of the old and new guard
protecting nets on opposite ends of the ice, another tense game should be
expected by two teams that until this series had relied on steadier offenses.
That means the Kings will be looking to score first — something they weren't
able to do in their two losses. The team that scores first has won the last 17
Stanley Cup Final games.
Justin Williams turned in a highlight-worthy goal on Saturday night when he cut
to the center of the ice and into a goal-scoring area upon entering the Devils'
zone before beating Brodeur with a sharp wrist shot to his blocker side. He has
been among the team's best skaters in the series.
After Saturday's loss, Williams spoke with palpable disappointment that this
series is not yet over.
"I'm pissed off. A lot of guys in that room are pissed off," he said
And that's the beauty of their current situation, which can potentially atone
for decades of ending the year as part of the disappointed handshake line, if
they were fortunate to make a playoff handshake line at all. On home ice, with
the backing of their anguished, diehard supporters (and perhaps a few hangers
on), the Kings have to win only one hockey game.
"I don't think we feel any pressure," Darryl Sutter said. "Not