Five reasons Los Angeles is poised for an upset

Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 1:19 PM / Los Angeles Kings | News
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Five reasons Los Angeles is poised for an upset
By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

LOS ANGELES --
The 44-year history of the Los Angeles Kings can be crystalized into two high points: the Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon-led teams of the late 1970s and the Wayne Gretzky teams of the early 1990s.

The latter is a jumping-off point for most Kings fans. Gretzky had the town in the palm of his hand when he led the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, their lone trip to the championship round.

Since then? One playoff series victory -- none since 2001.

That's why Staples Center was bedlam on Sunday night after L.A. took a 3-0 series lead for the first time in franchise history, against the favored Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Los Angeles is not only on the verge of a series win, it's close to becoming the ninth No. 8 seed to upset a No.1 seed since the League went to its current playoff format in 1993.

Here's a five reasons why the Kings are poised to pull off a huge series upset:

1. Jonathan Quick has been beyond brilliant

If Vezina Trophy voters on the East Coast didn't catch a lot of Quick in the regular season, they surely have given him a longer look by now.

Quick has stopped 111 of 115 shots for a .965 save percentage in three playoff games against one of the better offensive teams in the NHL. He covers the lower half of the net perhaps better than any goalie in the NHL, and his defense traffics teams to the perimeter.

Game 3 was a good example of Quick somehow being able to get stops when there's gridlock in front of him, with Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi having another terrific defensive game.

There is also a psychological component to Quick, who was always regarded as the second-best guy in L.A.'s organization. A third-round pick, Quick played in the ECHL when Jonathan Bernier won gold with Canada in the World Junior Championships. He beat out Bernier for the job in 2009, but he still carries a chip on his shoulder because he was overlooked.

Every Stanley Cup Playoffs sees a hot goalie that puts his team on his shoulders, and Quick has that look. It's fitting that Quick's coach is Bill Ranford, who carried the Edmonton Oilers to the 1990 Stanley Cup.

2. L.A.'s special teams have been better

The story of the series is Vancouver's prolonged struggles on the power play. Not only have the Canucks gone 0 for 14, they've given up two shorthanded goals.

Vancouver's power play hasn't been the same since January. It's in a 16-for-134 slump (11.9 percent) and appears to be buckling under L.A.'s highly-regarded penalty-killing unit, which can put Mike Richards and Dustin Brown up front.

The Canucks just aren't the same without Daniel Sedin, who could return for Game 4. But Los Angeles has had success against Vancouver teams with Sedin, too.

3. L.A.'s best players have been better than Vancouver's

The hockey cliché rings true through the first three games. Richards caught Roberto Luongo off-guard with a quick shot for a goal in Game 1. It was Brown's turn to shine in Game 2 when he tied the NHL single-game playoff record with two shorthanded goals. Brown, of course, produced the only goal in Game 3.

Vancouver is missing Daniel Sedin more than it is letting on. Henrik Sedin seems lost without his twin brother and Mason Raymond and David Booth haven't picked up the slack.

L.A.'s top line of Brown, Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar has combined for 11 points while Vancouver's top line of Sedin, Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen has four.

4. Coffee is for closers

Los Angeles was one of the best teams in the League at closing games in the regular season, and it has carried over into the postseason. The Kings, who are 86-0-9 over the past 95 regular season games when leading after two periods, led all NHL teams through Sunday with a 2-0 record when leading after 40 minutes.

They have allowed one third-period goal in three playoff games. In other words, there might as well be a fortress around Quick's net when L.A. has a lead -- and if a quality scoring chance does surface, Quick has smothered nearly everything.

5. Darryl Sutter has lit a fire under L.A.

General manager Dean Lombardi knew exactly what he was getting when he hired Sutter on Dec. 20 -- someone that would give his players a much-needed kick in the rear.

It's not that former coach Terry Murray was soft on his players, but Sutter is old-school blunt and will confront underachievement.

"Very honest and very black and white," center Jarret Stoll said of Sutter's coaching style. "And that's what you want. You don't want a guy that blows smoke. You want a guy that tells you how it is and he doesn't miss much. If he sees something, he's going to let you know. No matter who you are. If you're a role a player who plays five or six minutes or you're a guy that plays 22 minutes. Everybody's the same on our team, and that's how he treats us. I wouldn't want it any other way."

Sutter has also done this before. In 2004 Sutter took a Calgary Flames team largely comprised of role players to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Said Richards, "All year he doesn't allow you to take that breath and sit back. He's always looking to move forward. No matter how well we've played, there's always three or four things we can improve on.

"When you have a guy like that, it really allows you to push forward and do more things. You can never be satisfied with what you've done on the ice. There's always two or three things that you can get better at, and he definitely lets you know when you need to."