While contemplating the amazing comeback by the Kings against the Sharks in round 1 of the playoffs I am reminded of something the actor Michael Douglas said in the movie American President about the U.S. Presidency being entirely about character. One can apply that metaphor to sports as well and the L.A. Kings specifically.
What the hockey world beheld in the Kings comeback was entirely about character and how character makes champions.
There is a multitude of physically talented hockey players but instilling, harnessing, and maintaining character in a team is a rarer quality still; possessed by a select few coaches now working in the NHL.
Los Angeles looked like easy meat to the Sharks in games one and two: out-scored 13-5 with Jonathan Quick being chased from goal in game one; then enduring a seven goal cannonade in game two. But in retrospect one can see the seeds of the comeback already taken root and emerging in game three when the Kings had a 3-2 lead going into the third period of game three before surrendering the game-tying goal to Tomas Hertl and then losing in OT.
The Kings were down 3-0 in the series but they refused to die. Reaffirming the lessons learned from their Stanley Cup win in 2012, the Kings reasserted the strengths that made this team a playoff contender: playing the best defence in the NHL with goalie Jonathan Quick regaining confidence and displaying the full panoply of his goal-tending skills (skills that will earn him his first Jennings Trophy this season). The Kings allowed the Sharks only five goals in the last four games (and only two goals in the last three games). More amazingly the Kings offense strictly pea-shooter during the regular season grew dangerous during the comeback averaging 4.5 goals per game (as opposed to their regular season average of 2.51 goals scored).
Even more significantly the Kings got bloody mean. Playing in the great tradition of Darryl Sutter teams, the Kings got bloody nasty, racking up enormous penalty minutes during the comeback while allowing only one power-play goal during their pier-six fisticuffs. That nastiness helped the Kings regain their confidence and swagger and demoralized the Sharks considerably. It wasn’t pretty to watch but the bottom line was it worked. The Kings never stopped working; never stopped believing; never stopped fighting; never got satisfied with themselves. All these elements were inculcated by Darryl Sutter.
Every night different Kings stepped up to be heroes: Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik in game four; Jonathan Quick in game five; Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar in game six; and Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick in game seven. There was glory enough for all and all the Kings players were shriven by the playoff pressure; purified of their past mistakes; and glorified in their final triumph against the Sharks.
This was no fluke but a reminder to everyone that this is a team two years removed from its last championship; a team that earned team points in triple digits; coached by one of the greatest coaches in NHL history who keeps getting better and better with age; a coach with a proven track record of giant killing.
What the hockey world beheld may have shocked some but true fans of the game should not be surprised at all. What they saw was Darryl Sutter and the Los Angeles Kings at their very best.
The one question remains: can the Kings maintain this momentum all the way?
The Kings could be the spoilers of these playoffs.