Drew Doughty (8) celebrates with teammates Trevor Lewis, left, Jarret… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
The Kings have substantially rewritten their postseason record book this spring. Now, they're poised to put a serious dent in the NHL's record book.
A victory over the Phoenix Coyotes today at Staples Center would give the Kings a berth in the Stanley Cup finals with a 12-1 record, the fewest games any finalist will have played since the NHL expanded the first round to a best-of-seven format in the 1987 playoffs. The quickest route has been 14 games, taken several times, most recently by the 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins.
It's remarkable, and not just because of the Kings' woeful playoff history or because they entered this fray as the No. 8-seeded team in the West.
It's that they've gotten better at each step, when the pressure is supposed to intensify. They gave up 1.6 goals per game in eliminating No. 1-seeded Vancouver in five games, 1.5 per game in sweeping No. 2 St. Louis and one per game in building a 3-0 series lead over the No. 3-seeded Coyotes. After ranking 29th in goals scored this season at 2.29, they're averaging 3.08 goals in the playoffs despite a feeble 9.5% power play success rate.
"It really is extraordinary," said NBC analyst Brian Engblom, an observation that carries weight because he played defense for the 1977-78-79 champion Montreal teams that are considered among the best ever.
"As balanced and as good as the NHL is, to have one loss at this point….You go through a month of the season with one loss and you go, 'Wow that's incredible.' This is the playoffs and you've only lost one time and that's just extraordinary."
Defenseman Drew Doughty termed it "awesome" but said players are as purposeful as they've been since Coach Darryl Sutter arrived in December to reconfigure their game and reinforce their confidence.
"It's something definitely to be proud of, but at the same time we can't just be settled on that," Doughty said Saturday after the team practiced in El Segundo.
"We didn't come into the playoffs just to win two series and hopefully a third. We want to go to the Stanley Cup finals. We want to win that Cup. We worked so hard all year, all summer, for this moment right now and to finally be in it is so exciting. We just can't wait for that next game to start."
They won't have long to wait, since the puck will drop shortly after noon. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly are expected to attend, and the Clarence Campbell Bowl, awarded to the West champion, will be in the building.
The Coyotes, of course, want the Campbell Bowl to stay in its packing case. They're hoping Martin Hanzal's return from a one-game suspension will give them a better chance in battling with the Kings' excellent centers, and they know they need to get another good start and sustain it. They scored first on Thursday but led for only 2 minutes 7 seconds — their only lead in the series — before Anze Kopitar tied it.
"To lose one game to this point is pretty impressive," Phoenix winger Ray Whitney said. "We're going to give everything we have and see where it leads us. They're on a roll and playing well."
Engblom, who played parts of two seasons for the Kings and was their radio analyst for four years, said he's impressed by the Kings' ability to "repair themselves quickly" and regain control as they did after the Coyotes set the tempo early in Game 3.
"You could see the Kings reset," Engblom said. "By the third they turned it the other way completely. That's the sign of a terrific team, when you can change the momentum and swing it the other way and push them back the other way. Momentum is everything, especially in the playoffs, and they've done a hell of a job with that."
But the Kings are the first to say their job isn't done.
"At the beginning of the year when they had those trades and you'd look at us on paper, we looked pretty scary. For some reason it wasn't working out as well as we had hoped," forward Trevor Lewis said. "I think we kind of peaked at the right time. Darryl coming in helped us become more aggressive and on the right page, and so far so good in the playoffs."
So far, extraordinary.
Said Kopitar: "When everybody's going in this locker room and everybody believes in the same goal and the same thing, we can be pretty dangerous."