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Ask any Los Angeles Kings fan if it’s “fun” to be a fan of last year’s Stanley Cup Champions and they’ll likely laugh. Everyone knows it’s more fun to win than lose and if you’re a Kings fan, you certainly can’t complain about the Kings’ record over the past three seasons.
That said, all LA Kings fans know that the road to victory with their beloved team is generally a rocky one, fraught with doubt, fear, nervous moments and last-minute, nail-biting decisions. As of last night, the Kings have once again snuck back into a playoff spot, pushing the Winnipeg Jets out of their Wildcard position, and sitting just one point out of the third place Division spot that the Calgary Flames now hold. Despite an offensive barrage on the Edmonton Oilers last night in which the Kings scored a very unusual eight goals, with only five games left, the Kings seem intent on giving their fans the typical regular season dread, where making the playoffs could come down to the last couple of games.
Certainly, one might wonder if their luck is running out. A team that generally waits until, as they’ve described it, their “backs are against the wall” to play their best hockey, the Kings always have plenty of doubters and nay-sayers. According to the math skills of Sports Club Stats, the Kings have now moved to a 71.8% chance of making the playoffs – somewhat better than their coin flip odds of making it just a few days ago. Despite the improvement in stats, one might be inclined to bet against the Kings making it this season, particularly since they’ve played more games over the past three years than any other NHL team.
But betting against this Kings team – a team that has stayed largely intact since it won the cup in 2012 and again in 2014, a team that broke all sorts of records by coming back from a 0-3 deficit against their rival San Jose Sharks in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, then proceeded to win two more game 7s on the road on their way to the Stanley Cup, a team whose chief architect, GM Dean Lombardi continues to acquire critical pieces at the trade deadlines (Jeff Carter in 2012, Marion Gaborik in 2014 and this season, Andrej Sekera) – would be folly.
The NHL has all sorts of stats and criteria to judge what comprises a great team: goals against, goals scored, plus/minus, Corsi and more. But what they don’t have is a way to measure the intangibles: the way a team pulls together when things get tough, the strength of teammates who believe in each other, the feeling that there is always a chance. How do you measure these crucial “cultural” aspects of a team and weigh them versus the numbers?
These intangibles are the reason the Los Angeles Kings have won two cups in three years. The lack of these intangibles is also the reason why teams that look unbeatable on paper, with top players galore, proven coaching staff and plenty of support from their fan base can still lose in the first round of the playoffs or – shockingly – not make them at all (I’m talking to you, San Jose Sharks…can you say, culture change?).
So will the Kings make the playoffs? I’d bet on it.