EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Having a lead in a postseason series has been somewhat uncharacteristic for the Los Angeles Kings. It wasn’t two years ago when they won the Stanley Cup — they breezed right past everyone going up 3-0 and 3-1 in each series — but this season their magic has all come when facing elimination.
But Friday night, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks facing elimination at the hands of the Kings in the Western Conference finals. In order to do so, the Kings will need to replicate the same mindset and same killer instinct that has been so successful for them in elimination games throughout this postseason.
"Nobody wants to go back there," said Kings center Anze Kopitar Thursday afternoon after off-day practice at the Toyota Sports Center. "We wanted to finish it off last night. It didn’t happen. It’s disappointing."
After Game 5, an absolutely classic hockey game, the team lamented that nothing in the playoffs come easy. But this postseason that has been especially true. The Kings have played 19 postseason games, more than any other team left except the New York Rangers, who needed exactly 20 games to lock up their own spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
In 2012, the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 20 games. The cliche of the plaoyffs being a marathon, not a sprint, holds true. Nevermind the physical challenges that comes along with playing that many games, there’s a certain mental toughness that a team needs to develop along the way in order to endure the ever-increasing grind that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"You have to try to maintain your energy," said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. "It’s mental. [In] the playoffs, the farther you go, it’s a mental battle. you look at teams that are still playing, we’re seven weeks past teams that haven’t done nothing, that played their last game.
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"That’s where your experience and your leadership and your being able to play through injury [comes in]. Being able to just kind of set that stuff aside to give a quality performance."
Defenseman Drew Doughty is leading the charge when it comes to the mental and physical energy.
Doughty played through a shoulder injury earlier this postseason. In Game 5, he played nearly 40 minutes on the ice and would have played more. He doesn’t wear a C on his chest or even an A for that matter, but he doesn’t need to be a captain for everyone else to follow his lead.
"Your heart doesn’t get tired," Doughty said. "That’s what we feed off of, is energy from that, just playing with the will to win."
After looking at video and assessing the troubles that plagued them in Game 5, the Kings have determined that they can’t get off to another poor start and they need to eliminate the drastic momentum swings that led to the two teams trading chances. The more chances Chicago has to score with their retooled lines and defensive pairings, the harder the Kings have to work.
For 60 minutes and maybe more Friday night at Staples Center, they will block out the bigger picture in order to take care of the details. It’s not an elimination game for L.A., but that doesn’t mean that the Kings can’t play for their own lives.
"I’m sure that we’re going to have to play better than we did last night," Sutter said. "Some of our guys looked at me glazed over. But it’s true if you’re not finding ways to get better or think you can get better, then you’re kind of staying where you are.
"At the end of the day you want to be able to max it out. If you max it out and you’re fortunate enough to win, you move on."