The Royal Road
Coming Home with the Series Tied Has Been a Season-Long Work in Progress
Hungry for redemption from their first-round playoff exit just six months earlier, the Kings got off to a quick start, recording their 10th win in 13 games, which tied for fastest in Club history. The team’s eight-game home winning streak set a Club record for the longest home win streak to start a season, and had the electric, capacity crowds at STAPLES Center passionately pulsating.
By mid-November the Kings found themselves first overall in the NHL, a fact which had the city of angels proudly believing this was the year they would cement their place in history. But the early-season successes slowly faded as they won only two of 12 games to ring in 2011.
February proved to be the perfect anecdote, and the adversity that could have derailed the young bunch morphed into a 6-1-3 record during a 10-game road trip, where the Kings battled to put themselves back in the thick of the always-tight Western Conference playoff race. The West playoff picture, being so unforgiving, even allowed the Kings to move up a place in the standings on an off night.
General Manager Dean Lombardi beefed up the front lines by adding power forward Dustin Penner at the trade deadline, hoping he would be the last vital piece in the ever-elusive puzzle. In March, the Kings went 4-0 on an all-Western Conference road trip, the first-ever perfect road swing in team history, and a thrilling step in proving their playoff readiness.
After late-season injuries to leading scorers Justin Williams and iron-man Anze Kopitar, the Kings showcased their depth and resiliency as a team and found a way to clinch a playoff berth for the second straight year, finishing seventh in the West, which earned them a two-week Spring Break with the second-seeded San Jose Sharks.
In the regular season series between the two Pacific Division rivals, the games were evenly split at three wins apiece, and Game 1 in San Jose proved just how closely these teams are matched. Although the Sharks took an early lead just 28 seconds into the game, the Kings got a huge boost from Williams, who played his first game in three weeks, and tallied a goal and an assist to help push the game into overtime.
Although the Sharks took the first lead of the series, Game 2 wasn’t nearly as tight as many predicted, particularly considering the Kings were without key faceoff specialist Jarret Stoll. Behind a shutout performance from Jonathan Quick and an astounding four-point game by Drew Doughty, the Kings came a way with a decisive 4-0 victory to tie the series and earn home-ice advantage heading back to Los Angeles and the friendly confines of STAPLES Center.
Quick won his 30th game on March 13th and became the first Kings goalie to win 30+ games in consecutive seasons. Forward Ryan Smyth played his 1,000th career NHL game on November 6th, and on December 21st, Doughty, a Norris Trophy candidate last season, recorded his 100th career point.
But at the end of an 82-game season individual accomplishments mean just as much to hockey players as broken bones and surgery-destined limbs. Now, it’s about coming together as brothers, warriors, and destiny-seekers to conquer that magic number 16 and discover exactly what childhood pond-hockey dreams are made of.
One win down, 15 to go. Get ready, Kings fans. Playoff hockey has returned to Los Angeles.