At evening's end of Tuesday, April 22, few fans of the Los Angeles Kings had anything to say. Those few who did could not even attempt to penetrate what had gone wrong with their team through the first three games of the series. While Games 1 and 2 of their series with the San Jose Sharks saw the Kings lose lopsidedly, Game 3 was especially debilitating since they had lost in overtime, not to mention that it was in front of their home crowd. Following Game 3, it seemed as if all Kings wanted was not to be swept, especially at the hands of a fierce divisional rival. Those who simply did not want to see their Kings get swept had their wish granted two nights later. But even they would have never anticipated what the following week had in store.
While the Kings did win Game 4 to avoid the sweep, it was by a 6-3 margin in a game where the Sharks still showed plenty of offensive punch from the previous three outings. But as uplifting as it was for the silver-and-black to win at Staples Center, this was a series that had more-or-less dominated by the home-ice advantage factor. After all, in the first two games in San Jose, the Kings looked to have been completely exposed. They were uncharacteristically outshot, outhit and outscored 13-5. The usually-stellar defensive unit looked anything but, Jonathan Quick appeared to lose his edge and even the likes up front such as Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams were barely noticeable. To have any chance of forcing a Game 6, much less winning the series, the Kings had to turn around their recent misfortunes at San Jose's SAP Center in a hurry.
The pundits were saying, despite their years of playoff underachievement, that 2014 was the year of the San Jose Sharks - and admittedly, I had no reason to argue. But then, something happened.
After Game 4's win, my explanation of Los Angeles winning was simply a team cheating death. Prior to Game 5, I knew I'd have no reason to get excited unless the silver-and-black won in San Jose. Not only did they win but they chased goaltender Antti Niemi from the net and shut out an offensive that was so potent just days earlier. The Kings took Game 5 by a 3-0 score and then suddenly, albeit cautiously, fans in Los Angeles were getting gradually excited.
On Monday night for Game 6, Staples Center was electric.
Justin Williams, who had been notorious for being clutch in elimination games, scored to put Los Angeles out in front before regaining the Kings lead in controversial fashion. From there, Anze Kopitar scored twice and after a 4-1 final, Game 7 was set for Wednesday night back in San Jose.
But could the Kings win in enemy territory again? The answer was a resounding yes. While the Sharks did score first, the Kings scored three times thanks to beautiful goals by Drew Doughty, Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli. After two empty-netters, the historic comeback was complete as the Los Angeles Kings became just the fourth team in the NHL history (and the sixth in North American pro sports history) to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 0-3.
What a difference a week makes.
On the morning of April 23, fans and pundits alike were anticipating not if the Kings would be eliminated but when. The following week, the collective attitude made a complete 180, not only letting Kings fan rejoice their team's historic win but letting them giddily anticipate their team's second-round matchup with their crosstown rivals, the hated Anaheim Ducks in what will be the first-ever playoff meeting between the two clubs.
The Los Angeles Kings still have a long way to go in their quest for hockey's Holy Grail but during a week when the Los Angeles sports scene was dimmed by the Donald Sterling racism scandal, the timing of the Kings' come-from-behind win could not have been more felicitous - and sports fans, whether in Los Angeles or out on the east coast, truly appreciated the distraction.
For those who wondered what happened to Quick or Brown or Richards in the first few games of their series, had their answer in the final three games of the series. For those skeptics that thought Dustin Brown should be shipped out of town when the series ended or that Willie Mitchell should retire or that the Kings made the wrong move trading Jonathan Bernier over Jonathan Quick (that last one I still laugh about), it's hard to blame you. A part of me thinks shamefully of such skeptics but realistically, even the most die-hard of fans can't be eternal cockeyed optimists.
En route to their historic comeback, I half-jokingly told myself that if the Kings were to come back and eliminate the Sharks, that is all I would ask for of the club this postseason. Of course, that is not the case, especially with the Ducks waiting in the wings.
But with their recent surge, the Los Angeles Kings are suddenly a team to be reckoned with, and who better to carry that momentum over onto than their hated crosstown rivals?
The Los Angeles Kings exited the first round resurrecting from near death. Now, they enter the second round with a new lease on life and the Anaheim Ducks ought to recognize who they now have to deal with come Saturday night.