Last year, they were the eighth seed that no one wanted to face as the postseason went on.
This year, the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings will be pushed to a seventh game for the first time when they host San Jose in the deciding game of their Western Conference semifinal series on Tuesday night.
The winner-takes-all contest was made necessary when the sixth-seeded Sharks held on for a 2-1 win against the fifth-seeded Kings on Sunday night in Game 6 at HP Pavilion at San Jose. It will be the first seventh game for Los Angeles since 2002.
"Who cares?" said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter succinctly on NBC Sports Network afterwards, when notified that Los Angeles hadn't gone to a seventh game in 11 years.
On Sunday, the Kings sought to close out San Jose, but fell behind by a 2-0 score following goals by Joe Thornton (power play) and T.J. Galiardi. Kings team captain Dustin Brown banked the puck in off Sharks netminder Antti Niemi from a sharp angle late in the second period to pull Los Angeles within one, but that was as close as the Kings would get.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick (24 saves) was pulled for an extra skater in the final minute, but his teammates spent most of that time trying to get the puck out of their own zone as the Sharks kept dumping it back in to prevent a break-out. Quick has still fashioned a 1.51 goals-against average and a.950 save percentage so far in the six games against San Jose, according to NHL.com.
One area that Sutter wanted the Kings to improve on for Game 7 was penalties. Los Angeles was whistled for five minors on Sunday, which resulted in four San Jose power plays and Thornton's game-opening goal. The team scoring the first goal also won for the sixth time in the series, so getting the opener on Tuesday will prove to be crucial if that trend continues.
The Kings, however, don't seem to be too fazed entering Tuesday's do-or-die contest, or lamenting lost chances.
''Every game has been close,'' said Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi to the Associated Press following Game 6. ''I'm sure it's not a shock it's come to a Game 7. I'm sure both teams didn't want it to go this far. Right now, it doesn't matter how we win it, just that we win it.''
The Sharks will still be facing elimination on Tuesday, but now the Kings will be facing oblivion with them, something that never came close to happening in the 2012 postseason. Should Los Angeles lose, the NHL will again be seeking its first repeat Stanley Cup repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings last turned the trick in 1997-1998.
The Kings have won all six playoff games at home at the Staples Center this season, including the three previous ones in this series. They'll try to duplicate the effort they had in Game 5, a 3-0 win in L.A., to move on to the Western Conference final against either Detroit or the Chicago Blackhawks. The Red Wings lead that series, three games to two, with Game 6 tonight in Michigan.
For the Sharks and Kings, tomorrow spells either moving on to another series, or going on summer vacation.
''It's come down to one game,'' said LA forward Mike Richards to the AP after San Jose tied the series. Richards leads the Kings so far with eight assists and 10 points in 11 playoff games.
''We're a confident, comfortable team at home," he added. "The fans are loud and behind us. It should be an exciting game.''
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