The Los Angeles Kings did the unthinkable, coming back from down 3-0 to eliminate the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Is it possible that winning the next two games versus the Anaheim Ducks could be nearly as difficult?
The Kings trail 3-2 having once again lost three consecutive games. The difference from the San Jose series is they've been without some key players because of injuries and there are a number of other small problems to overcome.
The Kings must limit their defensive lapses, create more quality scoring chances and get contributions from the third and fourth lines.
Until they lost 4-3 to the Ducks in Game 5, the Kings hadn't allowed more than three goals in a single contest since Game 3 against the Sharks.
This was due to defensive miscues that the Kings rarely make.
The Ducks opened the scoring just 2:15 into the game when Jake Muzzin blew a tire as he went to turn to look up ice from deep in the defensive zone. Seconds later, the puck was behind Jonathan Quick.
The third goal came as Alec Martinez tried to make a pass up ice to Marian Gaborik. Ryan Getzlaf intercepted the puck and seconds later Devante Smith-Pelly notched his second goal in less than two minutes to put the Ducks up 3-1.
According to Corey Masisak of NHL.com, Dustin Brown pointed out after the game that, "It's never just one guy."
Per Masisak, Brown added the following.
It's the same thing with the first goal. [Muzzin] just blows an edge. That's how the game goes. As a result, we had the middle of the ice exposed. It's a five-man unit that has to find a way to weather the storm when we have those breakdowns.
The captain is dead-on. With Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell out of the lineup, it's crucial for the Kings to have all five skaters on the same page—especially in the defensive zone and on breakouts.
Creating Scoring Chances
It's a problem that plagued the Kings all season. They can dominate puck possession, rack up a ton of shots, but they can't generate quality scoring chances.
In Game 4 the Kings entered the second period down 2-0. They went on to control the play, outshooting the Ducks 19-3 over the final two periods. However, John Gibson had an answer every time and became the youngest goaltender to record a shutout in his first playoff game.
The Kings had 25 shots blocked and plenty more attempts missed the net. Basically, L.A. is able to maintain pressure offensively, but the sense of urgency isn't always there.
Playing with an edge is essential, but in the offensive zone they must be tactful. Continuing to drive hard to the net is key, as is being patient with the puck in order to set up the best shot for a sniper like Marian Gaborik or Jeff Carter.
For the Kings, this is a case of quality being more important than quantity.
Who Will Step Up?
Anze Kopitar and Gaborik have been sensational for most of the postseason. Kopitar has four goals and 12 assists for 16 points, which puts him two points clear of the next player in the playoffs. Gaborik leads the scoring race with eight goals and also has four assists for 12 points, good for fifth.
The Kings can't depend on these two alone to get the job done offensively. Trevor Lewis has stepped up with three goals in the playoffs—half of his total in 73 games this season—but that's one of the only positives for L.A.
Mike Richards has played a good two-way game as expected, but he has just three points. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson have looked great at times, but they have cooled off lately, combining for three points in their past five games.
Slava Voynov has struggled at both ends of the rink and looks nothing like the speedy, creative blueliner from last year's playoffs.
These players—and others—must play desperate if the Kings are going to have a chance at a comeback.
You can expect the Kings to control the tempo, Jonathan Quick to provide stellar goaltending and the first line to score a goal or two. However, that probably won't be enough to pull off a comeback against an Anaheim team that seems to be carrying all the momentum.
L.A. must address these three key concerns and put together a strong 60-minute performance in back-to-back games.
Obviously they have experience on their side, but they can't expect the Ducks to come out with a lackluster performance at times like the Sharks did.