Darryl Sutter could not have scripted a more dominant performance from his team on Friday.
The seventh game in what had been a tight series between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks was supposed to be a battle between equals, a final contest that brought out the best in both clubs and resulted in the best hockey yet between these teams.
The Kings delivered, the Ducks didn’t, and the result was a lopsided affair in which the final score was 6-2.
It wasn’t a case of the Kings catching all of the breaks, either. Tyler Toffoli blasted a puck off of the goalpost in the first period after what (even at that point) felt like just another Anaheim defensive breakdown; Slava Voynov would ring another shot off of the iron on the power play later in the same frame.
Anaheim had some things go their way offensively, too. Corey Perry made a solid play to block a shot at his own blue line in the first period, but the puck went off the shaft of his stick, weakening it. As he streaked away on a breakaway, the referee mistook his broken stick for a slash by Drew Doughty rather than what it was; the end result was a penalty shot, which didn’t result in a good chance thanks to a Jonathan Quick poke check.
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau didn't make any excuses after the game:
The Kings didn’t really do much differently than they had done in previous games; they just did the same things better.
Justin Williams, who has been dominant in Game 7 situations over his career, opened the scoring for the Kings, and was duly credited by his coach afterward, with Sutter saying that "he leads the charge" in critical situations.
Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, the twin offensive engines of this team, both scored, too. Drew Doughty’s phenomenal ability to turn a defensive situation into an offensive situation lickety-split was on full display, too.
Boudreau tried to adapt as the game progressed, getting the Ryan Getzlaf line away from Anze Kopitar in the second period after playing a power vs. power matchup in the first:
Ultimately, it didn’t matter; Los Angeles was just too good. The Ducks made the score a little more respectable after the Kings had run up a 5-0 lead, but they couldn’t generate anything while the game was still in doubt.
No single play captured the Kings’ strengths as a team better than Mike Richards' 3-0 tally, a goal that didn’t include any of the key stars for L.A. mentioned above:
Ryan Getzlaf, who had put a puck just wide of Quick earlier in this same shift, did what fans everywhere like to see: He finished a heavy hit on Kyle Clifford. In this case, though, he would have been better advised to try to seal off the passing lane; Clifford took the hit but advanced the puck. There’s something to be said for physical intimidation and playing a grinding style of play, but the primary purpose of a hit is to gain control of the puck, and in this case, Clifford bested Getzlaf.
There’s a common belief, too, that a big, tough team needs to be a grinding, cycle team. The Kings contradict that; they beat San Jose largely on the strength of offence created off the rush, and this Richards goal came about the same way. That’s not to say grit wasn’t required; Richards charged hard to the net, splitting Anaheim’s defence, and earned a goal as a result.
The lesson in both of the plays identified above—the Clifford pass and the Richards charge—is that the primary commitment is to advancing the puck. There’s a tendency to talk about puck possession and grit as though they are different things when they really aren’t; the Kings at their best (as they were in this contest) are a dominant puck-possession team because they’re willing to make physical plays to get the puck out of the defensive zone and to create scoring.
It is a dynamite combination and one that Los Angeles’ Round 3 opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks, cannot afford to underrate.
This is particularly true because the Kings' strengths are married to a team that has been tested under the harshest possible conditions. The core of this Los Angeles team already had the experience of a Stanley Cup win in 2012, but that team never faced the danger of elimination. This group has now done so on six occasions, and all six times it has found a way to win those contests.
In defeat, Boudreau said that the Kings had "played like Stanley Cup champions" and would give the Hawks "all they can handle" in the third round.
If any team can beat Los Angeles, though, it should be Chicago. The Blackhawks have won two of the last four Stanley Cups and handled the Kings in last year’s Western Conference Final. The Kings have upgraded since then, adding a key offensive weapon in Marian Gaborik that they didn’t have last spring, which should alter the dynamic of the two clubs.
Whatever happens, Round 3 should be a doozy. The Kings and Blackhawks are clearly the two best teams in the West over the last few years and easily two of the best in the NHL, period. The winner of their series will be the clear favourite to capture the 2014 Stanley Cup.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report; follow him on Twitter for more of his work.