NHL Playoffs: 8 Reasons Los Angeles Kings Have Emerged as Stanley Cup Favorites

Isaac SmithAnalyst IMay 7, 2012

NHL Playoffs: 8 Reasons Los Angeles Kings Have Emerged as Stanley Cup Favorites

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    The Los Angeles Kings have come a long way since edging out the Calgary Flames for the eighth and final playoff spot back in early April.

    The Kings knocked off the St. Louis Blues by a 3-1 score in Game 4 to finish a sweep of the Blues and send the Kings to their first Western Conference Finals since the Wayne Gretzky era.

    But the Kings don't look to be stopping any time soon, and they have done something that no other eighth seed in NHL playoff history has done: knock off the top seed and the second seed in their conference in the same playoff season.

    But "beating" the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the same playoff season doesn't even come close to explaining what the Kings actually did.

    They won eight out of nine games and are looking like a far cry from the second-worst offensive team that we saw in the regular season.

    Here are eight reasons why the eighth-seeded Kings are suddenly Stanley Cup favorites.

1. Dean Lombardi, General Manager

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    Now, giving credit to a general manager is usually done at the end of a season when a team wins the Stanley Cup.

    But after the Kings became the first team to knock off a No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the same playoff season, I think we can preemptively give Kings GM Dean Lombardi some credit for assembling this team the way he has.

    The Kings thoroughly dismantled their opponents with their superior weight and size. They laid into their opponents, crushing the Canucks' and Blues' skaters whenever they had the opportunity.

    Lombardi's decision to bring in Jeff Carter to add some team chemistry with his former Flyers teammate (and current Kings player) Mike Richards has proved inspirational for that duo this postseason.

    Lombardi also brought in players like Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi, Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell to name a few.

    He has been building this team for the past five years, assembling pieces and drafting great players, one player at a time.

    The fruits of Lombardi's diligence are finally starting to show after a few seasons of coming close.

2. The Play of Jonathan Quick

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    With an 8-1 record in nine games started, Jonathan Quick has done his fair share of helping the team to not just qualify for the playoffs (which he did with the second-worst offense backing him in the league), but also win the first two rounds of the playoffs.

    Quick has a 94.9 save percentage, a 1.55 goals against average and a shutout.

    He has submitted his name for Conn Smythe consideration thus far, and his stellar play between the pipes is a big reason that his offense has renewed life and confidence here in the playoffs.

    One could look at Quick's statistics and find them very admirable in and of themselves, but this alone would not properly justify Quick's performances thus far.

3. The Kings' Offense?

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    The Kings scored just 194 goals in 82 regular season games.

    In nine postseason games they already have 30 goals.

    I'll let you do the math on that one.

    The Kings have been led by their captain, Dustin Brown. Brown has six goals with two of them coming short-handed, and two of them being game-winning goals.

    The Kings have done a nice job of spreading out the offense, with 15 different players having at least one goal in these playoffs.

    Although they have been carried by Brown as well as Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, they have done well to apply offensive pressure with more than just their top six forwards, as can be clearly seen on the scoreboard.

4. Their Road Play in the Playoffs

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    The LA Kings are 8-1 in the playoffs, but they are 5-0 on the road.

    So for any team hosting them in the next round (Phoenix or Nashville) or in the subsequent round of the Stanley Cup Finals, take notice: The Kings don't care that they're playing on the road. In fact, they're playing quite well on the road.

    This is also a subsequent turnaround from the regular season when the Kings were 18-13-10 away from home.

    Home ice advantage?

    Try again.

5. Short-Handed Surpremacy

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    The Kings seem to have no fear of playing on the road; in fact, they seem to relish it. So it would make perfect sense (in a backwards kind of way) that the Kings relish playing a man down.

    But hold on, that would be an understatement.

    The Kings have outscored their opponents while they have been down a man.

    I'll pause for effect and let you read that again.

    Yes, the Kings have four short-handed goals in the playoffs, while giving up just three power-play goals to the opposition.

    Now, while it's almost certain that they won't finish the playoffs with more short-handed goals than power-play goals given up, it certainly goes a long way to show where the mindset of this team is right now.

6. Their Captain, Dustin Brown

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    I talked earlier about how Dustin Brown led the Kings in points through the first two rounds with 11 points.

    But I didn't talk about his determination on defense and his tenacity in his hitting game.

    Brown has 39 hits through nine games to go along with five blocked shots.

    His faceoff percentage is nothing special at only 38.5 percent, but with the style of hockey that the Kings play, they would rather be hitting opponents to free up the puck than play a simple puck-possession game.

    Brown has submitted his name for Conn Smythe consideration after his performance over the first two rounds, but the Kings will need more of the same if they are to possibly contend for a Stanley Cup.

7. Anze Kopitar

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    Anze Kopitar is finally breaking out offensively, and that's tremendous news for the Kings.

    Kopitar had just four points through six games, but over the past three games, he has turned it on and the Kings pulled a sweep of the St. Louis Blues as a result.

    Kopitar's two goals in Game 2 of the Blues series turned the tied, and Kopitar added four more assists between Games 3 and 4.

    His responsibilities as a center include down-low slot coverage in front of his own net as well, and he helped out his team in a big time way, preventing the would-be game-tying goal from crossing his own goal line by swatting the puck back into Jonathan Quick's glove.

    Kopitar must stay in the picture offensively if the Kings have any hope of continuing what has been a dominating run thus far.

8. The Gelling of the Defensive Unit

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    Whether it's Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov, Rob Scuderi or Alec Martinez, the Kings' defense has been rock solid through two rounds of the playoffs.

    Those six defensemen (per ESPN.com) have blocked 81 shots through two rounds. Over nine games, that averages out to nine blocks per game; that's a lot of shots just from defensemen that Jonathan Quick isn't facing.

    Four defensemen have one goal, and although the Kings' power play is struggling at under 10 percent, the defensemen in Los Angeles look perfectly comfortable moving the puck between each other and up the ice to the forwards on the breakouts.

    They were truly tested today in Game 4 against St. Louis, where St. Louis got the first real pressure on the Kings' defensemen. But the back end of the Kings stood strong and helped Jonathan Quick and the Kings hold on for a win.

    Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if other teams up the pressure and the ante on Los Angeles' defense, as that seems to be the key to getting sustained pressure on the Kings and hemming them in their zone.

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