Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hockey Edge Newsletter December 2012: How the Kings Regained Momentum Just in Time to Win the Stanley Cup

The 2012 Stanley Cup Finals looked like a rout. The Los Angeles Kings were dispatching easily of another opponent; this time it was the New Jersey Devils in the way of the Kings' destiny with the Cup. After taking a 3-0 series lead and then losing two potential clinching games, it was "sweaty palm time" for the Kings. Momentum was flowing against them and the Devils seemed to grow more and more confident.

Coming home for Game 6 after being up 3 games to 0 had to have the Kings feeling the heat. Certainly they did not want to have it come down to a Game 7 in New Jersey. So, Game 6 at home was a must-win to avoid a huge collapse.

In Game 6 at Staples Center the Kings finished ferociously just when the sixth-seeded Devils appeared to have a chance for one of the biggest comebacks in finals history. How were the Kings able to change the course of the Finals?

One penalty abruptly changed the tone of the series. Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis scored during a five-minute power play in the first period after Steve Bernier was ejected for boarding Rob Scuderi, leaving the veteran defenseman in a pool of blood. Goaltender Jonathan Quick took it from there, finishing a star-making two months by allowing only one goal in a 6-1 cup-clincher.

Captain Dustin Brown talked about how the Kings handled losing momentum and two straight games to the Devils.

"You never know. You get to the dance, you never know what's going to happen," Brown said. "We calmed down after losing two. It was the first time we had done that all playoffs, and we finally got off to a good start."

This mindset is crucial in the process of the Kings bouncing back and winning the Cup at home. According to their captain, the Kings did not focus on the potential of giving up a three-game lead and the Cup and instead relaxed and just played hockey. Relaxing when you feel you are losing grip on something you owned is not easy. The Kings had this series wrapped up and allowed it to become tight.

Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots for the Eastern Conference champion Devils, just the third team to force a Game 6 in the finals after falling into an 0-3 hole. Rookie Adam Henrique ended Quick's shutout bid late in the second period after the Kings had built a 4-0 lead, but Lewis and Matt Greene added late goals for the Kings.

"We never lost our confidence," Quick said. "We had to take it on the chin to keep moving, losing two, and we looked at it as, 'Hey, we still have to win one game to win a championship. And we have two chances.' Finally, we were able to do it at home."

Quick's quote is a clear example of a player finding the positive in what could be considering a difficult situation. I love the idea of focusing on having two chances to win the Cup. If given that situation at the beginning of the year you know the Kings would have jumped at it and viewed it as a great situation. Funny how the course of a series changes the outlook of a situation. 

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What is the message for developing hockey players? Find the positive in any situation. It will allow you to relax and play your game. If you are losing stay committed by reminding yourself and your teammates that there is time left in the game or talk about getting pucks on the net and then anything can happen.

Finally, how can you regain momentum when you have lost it? In the King's case they were helped by a major penalty and scoring an early barrage of goals. There is nothing better to help steal the momentum. However, you cannot count on your opponent helping you out with a timely penalty. Instead, you have to create your good fortune. And, it starts with the fundamentals. Play simple, fast, physical hockey. Move the puck and your feet to create flow in the game and scoring chances. Win the board battles and spend most of your shift in your opponent's zone. Begin to dominant puck possession. By doing these things a hockey team can steal momentum. Oh, and it does not hurt to score a goal...

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