Top Shelf: Resilient Kings come alive

 

The Sports Network

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - For a short time Wednesday night, it appeared the Los Angeles Kings were overmatched by the defending Stanley Cup champions and headed for a second straight exit in the Western Conference finals.

But when things are bleakest for the Kings and you're ready to count them out, that's when everything seems to click in an instant.

Down 1-0 in the series and 2-0 on the scoreboard late in the second period of Wednesday's Game 2, the Kings answered with six goals to stun the Chicago Blackhawks and the home crowd at United Center. In a flash, L.A. altered the course of the series and is now heading to the City of Angels tied at 1-1 rather than facing a 2-0 deficit.

The scoring barrage began harmlessly enough, with Los Angeles receiving a bit of luck when a centering pass from Kings forward Mike Richards deflected off the skate of teammate Justin Williams and past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford. Up to that point of the game, L.A. seemed flat and always a step behind Chicago, but the fluky goal was enough to change the momentum and spur the Kings to their five-goal third period and a 6-2 rout.

Jeff Carter notched a hat trick for L.A. in the final stanza, while Tyler Toffoli and Jake Muzzin scored the other goals to fuel the comeback. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who had been spectacular in keeping the game close while his teammates struggled in the first and second periods, only needed to make six saves over the final 20 minutes as Chicago failed to produce an answer to L.A.'s rally.

The Kings are the rare example of a team able to take panic out of the equation. The club has experienced tremendous peaks and valleys within the 2014 postseason, but the team's demeanor doesn't seem to change drastically no matter the predicament.

L.A.'s attitude can be traced back to the head coach Darryl Sutter, a quirky guy who happens to be a master manipulator and motivator, even if his tactics are less than conventional. The Kings have developed a deep trust in Sutter and the coach can seemingly convey his message without saying much at all.

Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty summed up Sutter's approach on Wednesday, and it didn't involve a fiery speech in the second intermission.

"I'm trying to think, second period," Doughty said. "I don't think he said too much, just because when Darryl doesn't come in and say too much, that means he's mad at us. That tells us we're not playing well and we need to do something about it. If he's just staring at us in the room and making little comments like 'Oh, Toews is the best player in the world' or things like that, then we know he's not happy and we need to do something about it."

It's as if the Kings understand Sutter on an instinctive level and only need to hear the slightest hint of dissatisfaction from their coach in order to be motivated from within. It's a brilliant use of reverse psychology with Sutter playing the role of a parent who knows when to drop the old "I'm not angry with you, just disappointed" line rather than rant and rave like a lunatic.

If this postseason ends with Los Angeles lifting the Stanley Cup for a second time in three years, this championship run will look much different than the one in 2012 when the Kings dominated their way to the franchise's first title. Although it entered the postseason as an eighth seed in 2012, L.A. went 16-4 that spring with its toughest test coming in a six-game series win over New Jersey in the Cup Finals.

In 2014, however, the Kings are showing they can be just as scary with their backs against the wall, winning a pair of road Game 7s to reach this rematch of last season's Western Conference finals.

L.A. trailed San Jose 3-0 in the opening round before becoming only the fourth team in NHL history to win a best-of-seven set after dropping the first three games. The Kings then found themselves down 3-2 to Anaheim in the conference semis before taking Game 6 on home ice and then routing the Ducks, 6-2, in another road Game 7.

Of course, the Blackhawks have proven themselves to be every bit as resilient as the Kings while winning two Stanley Cup titles over the previous four years. Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville may have a drastically different approach and bedside manner than Sutter, but he has a few tricks up his sleeve when the time comes to motivate his troops and it'd be foolish to count the Blackhawks out because of one third-period meltdown.

The Blackhawks beat L.A. in five games last spring, but the 2013 West finals was hardly a blowout. Chicago outscored the Kings by a combined 14-11 margin in the series and needed a 4-3 double-overtime victory to clinch the set in Game 5. Maybe a lucky bounce or two in last year's matchup could've changed L.A.'s fate, kind of like the one that led to Williams' momentum changer on Wednesday.

It may be a roller coaster of emotions for fans supporting a team like L.A., but the team itself is the picture of calm. It's hard to think of a better approach to withstand the rigors of the always unpredictable NHL playoffs.

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