Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

In case you missed it over the last few days, the LA Kings rallied four times in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks to win the series and the West in overtime.

It was a close game and despite LA having taken a 3-1 series lead, it was a closer series than it appeared. The Hawks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first ten minutes but the Kings battled back and tied the game a few minutes later. That only lasted 12 seconds as Patrick Sharp‘s shot took a funny hop and fooled Jonathan Quick.

Blackhawks had the lead 3-2 going into the first intermission.

In the second period, the Kings were playing with fire, getting dinged for five minor penalties, including a five-on-three. They managed to kill off four and even tied the game. It stayed that way for a while until Sharp’s shot on the power play deflected off of Jake Muzzin, who was attempting to block it; there was basically no chance for Quick on that shot. Once again, Hawks had the lead going into the second intermission.

The third period was played very tightly. Virtually no lead has been safe in these playoffs and Chicago tried hard to keep LA at bay, but the Kings finally broke through with just over seven minutes to go when Marian Gaborik‘s backhander beat Corey Crawford up high. With less than 10 seconds remaining in the game, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw had an odd man rush, but Quick kept it tied to send the game into overtime.

The break between the third period and OT was a good chance for fans to catch their breath. The series was incredibly close and was a wild ride so naturally the Kings twitter account made a nervous joke.

While Game 5 took 82 minutes to play with Michal Handzus getting the eventual game winning goal, Alec Martinez decided not to wait as long to send his team to the Stanley Cup Final. Justin Williams cycled the puck down low and threw it out to his teammate waiting at the bottom of the circle. Martinez’s wrist shot deflected off of Nick Leddy and beat a helpless Crawford.

It was a strange game full of luck and flukey bounces. But it was very much an embodiment of the series as a whole: Weird bounces, subpar goaltending and seemingly little defense (though that last part isn’t true at all). The last two Stanley Cup Champions, two heavy weights, were dueling for hockey’s ultimate prize so it should come as no surprise that it came down to who got the luckier bounce. The last four games were extremely close, decided by a bounce here or there. These two teams are extremely similar and may be duking it out for title of Best In the West for the next few years.

Royal Pains

A month ago, the Kings were facing elimination down 0-3 to the San Jose Sharks. They made an historic comeback with a reverse sweep, joining only three other teams. Then they lost three games in a row to the Anaheim Ducks before winning Game 7.

As a team, they have been constantly frustrating their opponents and showing a resiliency in every game. Even when they’re down, they display an incredible belief that they can still win. Part of this is due to the “winning culture” that GM Dean Lombardi created when he built this team. Getting guys like Mike Richards, a winner at every level (the only NHL player to have a Memorial Cup, a Calder Cup and a Stanley Cup), and Justin Williams, who has a well-deserved reputation for being a clutch player (now a perfect 7-0 in Game 7) have helped that culture shift.

But for the Kings, probably the biggest factor has been balance and depth. While Gaborik’s presence has been beneficial on the top line, it was the development of young rookies Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson that has brought the biggest balance of forward depth to the Kings. With Jeff Carter‘s ability to play either wing or center, head coach Darryl Sutter has been able to shift Richards down to the fourth line where he can flourish in soft minutes against weak competition. (It should be noted that Sutter doesn’t number his lines and that Richards averages more minutes than a typical fourth liner due to his play in all situations–5v5, penalty kill or power play). This has allowed Sutter to consistently roll four lines throughout all three series.

The emergence of Jake Muzzin is also helping the team on the back end. As a rookie, he appeared to lack confidence and seemed to be afraid to make a mistake. Playing against top competition with Drew Doughty didn’t seem to really help things, either. However, his growth this past year has been remarkable. Playing most of the year alongside Doughty, Muzzin has learned how to handle top competition and is currently third on the team in ice time, averaging 21.2 minutes a night. Being somewhat of a possession demi-god (with admittedly favorable zone starts), his ability to hang on to the puck to make plays has been one of the biggest reasons why the Kings are going back to the Final.

Numbers courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com

Numbers courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com

When he’s playing with Doughty, the two put up ungodly numbers (the team controlled nearly 60% of 5v5 shot attempts when they were on the ice), which has frustrated opponents. While these may be regular season numbers, the team is still averaging control of ~50% of shots at 5v5 when Muzzin and Doughty are on the ice together. They have undoubtedly been LA’s best defense pairing. Their combined puck possession prowess, along with LA’s newly found offensive abilities (thanks in part to Gaborik’s ability to drive shooting percentages) have made the Kings a royal pain to play against.

Starting Wednesday, June 4th, 2014, the Kings will take on the New York Rangers for title of Best in the NHL.

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