In 1974, world-renowned boxer Muhammad Ali perfected a fighting style commonly known as “rope-a-dope.” The strategy, used against George Foreman in the famous Rumble in the Jungle, involved Ali lying up against the ropes, letting his opponent swing away and punch himself out before eventually counter-attacking out of nowhere.
If you want to see a hockey version of this, look no further than the Los Angeles Kings.
Ever since this postseason started, there has been at least one moment per series where you could be caught thinking, “wow, the Kings might be out of this.” It happened in epic fashion during their opening round matchup with the San Jose Sharks. L.A. fell into what appeared to be an insurmountable 3-0 hole, before rallying off four straight wins and sending San Jose off to the golf course way earlier than they had planned.
The Kings followed this up with a back-and-forth series against the rival Anaheim Ducks. After taking a 2-0 series lead, Los Angeles lost three straight, thanks in part to a stunning performance by Anaheim’s 20-year-old wunderkind goalie John Gibson. They were pelted left and right with questions about whether or not they could beat the Ducks’ rookie goaltender, and many wondered if Gibson was in the Kings’ heads. Turns out that wasn’t the case, as L.A. won the next two games, slamming the door in convincing fashion with a 6-2 Game 7 win. The mighty and unbeatable Gibson gave up four goals on 18 shots.
If anybody was going to derail the Kings’ Cup dreams, though, it had to be the Chicago Blackhawks, who came into the Western Conference Finals looking like the team to beat. It was Chicago that sent L.A. home last year, and they certainly appeared more than capable of doing it again this time around.
A 3-1 Game 1 victory for the Blackhawks solidified this point, and as Chicago took a 2-0 lead early in the second period of last night’s Game 2, it appeared the Kings were going to have to crawl out of another deep series deficit.
But, as they’ve done all postseason, Los Angeles threw a massive counter-punch just when you didn’t expect it. This time, it came in the form of six unanswered goals, three from Jeff Carter on his second career playoff hat trick. Just as it seemed like the Kings were in trouble, they blew the doors off the United Center.
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who’s been more than reliable for the Blackhawks this postseason, gave up five goals on 30 shots faced. Most of the damage came in the third, when the Kings scored five goals on just 12 shots. While doing this, Los Angeles locked down defensively, resulting in the Blackhawks only managing six shots in the final frame.
For some reason, the Kings are playing their best hockey when the odds are stacked highly against them. They fell behind by two, had a boisterous Chicago crowd all over them, and then proceeded to lay a beating on the defending champs. What was once a raucous atmosphere quickly became quieter than a library.
Whether or not the Kings rally from yet another comeback and take ahold of this series remains to be seen. Chicago certainly has what it takes to bounce back and win two straight at the Staples Center. What we do know is, if this indeed happens, the last thing you can do is count Los Angeles out.
They’ve already come back from bigger hurdles than that.