Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Los Angeles not Playing the #8 Seed

Last time I checked Los Angeles sneaked into the playoffs as the #8 seed and lost their final two games to San Jose to lose the division lead. So, you would expect them to be knocked out quickly in the first round by the defending Western Conference champion Canucks, right? Not so fast. Los Angeles jumped on Vancouver early winning both games on the road and outplaying the Canucks in a five-game series win.

Ok, so the dream run will end with the young St. Louis Blues who looked very impressive against a veteran Sharks team. Again, not so fast. LA has jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the home team and higher seed. How have the Kings been able to dominant the two top seeds in the West?

The first reason is not Jonathan Quick. You are probably thinking I have lost my mind at this point. I would have agreed with you earlier in the playoffs, but the more you watch the Kings you realize that they are winning by outplaying their opponent as often, or more often, than they are relying on Quick. Instead, the first reason is the playoff experience of many of the veterans on the team. Justin Williams won a cup with Carolina. Matt Greene played for Edmonton against Carolina and Williams in that thrilling seven game series. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter reached the Finals in 2010 with Philadelphia. Rob Scuderi won the cup with Pittsburgh in 2009. Dustin Penner won a cup with Anaheim in 2007. Tons of Stanley Cup experience resides on the roster that compliments the Los Angeles' youth.

The Kings roster is sprinkled with playoff veterans and that has given them an edge. These players know how to prepare for the intensity and speed of the playoffs. They know how to handle the ups and downs of a long playoff run. I would imagine they are teaching and modeling these things to the younger or inexperienced Kings. Clearly LA has looked like the more prepared team in each series. They are winning on the road which is also a sign of maturity; being able to handle adversity in the other team's arena. A perfect 5-0 record on the road? Even the biggest Kings' believer would not have predicted it.

Obviously Quick is a huge reason why the Kings are upsetting the West's top teams. He has been unbelievable. Quick's early Game 1 stops against the Blues gave the Kings the confidence that they will continue to get great goaltending from him and will be successful in the second round. Playing in front of Quick has to be a huge shot of confidence. He is not letting anything in the net. This allows his team to play aggressive and free of worry.

At the same time the Kings have also been disciplined. They have stuck to their game plan and have not allowed teams to pepper Quick with high quality scoring chances. The Kings know if Quick sees the puck he is going to stop it. And, they have done a great job of staying focused on playing solid defense.

Finally, special teams have been a huge factor for the Kings. Dustin Brown has been PK nightmare for the Canucks and Blues. In the first two games LA has held St. Louis scoreless on 12 power play opportunities and has scored two shorthanded goals. The special teams of the Kings has been dominant so far this playoffs.

Jarret Stoll talked about why the Kings have been successful on the road.

"Just simple. Making sure all those little decisions with the puck, without the puck, that you're doing it," center Jarret Stoll said. "The right attitude, good goaltending, special teams, all those things. There's so many things that go into it. You need some luck, you need some good bounces here and there. We've definitely had all those." (NHL.com, April 29, 2012)

For all of these reasons and more the Kings are not playing like an eighth seed. They are playing with belief. The Kings know they can beat any of the West's top teams because they have playoff experience, Jonathan Quick, good defense, and awesome special teams. Seems like enough reasons for the Kings to believe that they will go deep in to the 2012 Playoffs.

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