Well this is new, at least for the Los Angeles Kings.
After last night’s 5-2 domination of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Kings took a convincing 3-1 series lead. And it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if they weren’t exactly used to sitting in this position.
All postseason long, the Kings have been, at some point or another, pushed to the brink. The two series they won before meeting Chicago in the conference finals each involved having to win multiple games in a row in order to avoid going home early. Now, it’s their opponent that needs a miracle to stay alive. Is this something Los Angeles can take advantage of? Or will they struggle without that extra ounce of anxiety?
You’d like to think the Kings are more than happy to breathe a little easier in this series. I highly doubt anyone on the team misses the feeling they had when falling into a 3-0 hole against the San Jose Sharks in the opening round. The historic, four-win comeback they put together was one for the ages, but it was hardly an enviable situation. Likewise for their conference semifinals matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, wherein the Kings were backed up against the wall, down 3-2 and dealing with the stellar goaltending of rookie John Gibson.
Both of these series involved desperation hockey, and both resulted in L.A. prevailing. As exciting as it may have been for the casual viewer, the Kings probably weren’t psyched to be put in each position in the first place. With this in mind, sometimes you’ll see a team have to fight for their lives more often than not, but once they come into a situation where it’s not required, they struggle to get engaged. Not used to the concept of being in the driver’s seat, sometimes a club can find themselves shifting into cruise control too early.
You could possibly say this type of scenario happened last round for the Kings. After taking the first two games of the semifinals, both on Anaheim ice, Los Angeles returned home and promptly lost three straight. Whether or not this was a result of the Kings easing off the gas is anyone’s guess, but it wouldn’t be surprising if this were the case.
Now, L.A. is in an even better position. All they need is to win one of the next three games and they’re back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years. That said, this hardly means they can put forth anything less than 100%, with the mindset of “Well, if we don’t win the next game, it’s no big deal.”
This isn’t exactly a Cinderella team they have up against the ropes. It’s the defending champions, a Chicago team who’s been down before this postseason, and successfully rallied despite it. If the Blackhawks come back to win Game 5, this series will hardly be considered in the bag for the Kings.
This is why, regardless of how it looks on paper, L.A. should in no way consider this a done deal. Sure, a win in Game 5 finishes off Chicago, but taking the ice with this mindset is playing with fire. The focus should be nothing but killer instinct.
Essentially, the Kings have their foot on a snake right now. They need to take full advantage and finish it off. If they allow just a little wiggle room, this series could take a significant swing.