The Kings went from trying to make happy history by winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence to possibly ending up on the wrong side of history with a hockey collapse of epic proportion.
In a seven-game series, a 3-0 lead looks insurmountable regardless of the sport. A deficit of that magnitude has never been overcome in an NBA playoff series. The Boston Red Sox were the first to break the barrier in their legendary ALCS win against the New York Yankees en route to the World Series title in 2004.
Compared to baseball and hoops, Hockey teams are entitled to have hope when down 0-3, albeit just a tiny sliver. Three times in NHL playoff history has a team climbed out of the huge 3-0 hole to win the series.
As a No. 8 seed ripping through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have not only taken the hockey community by surprise, but it’s own home city of Los Angeles has been transformed from a collection of beach-going basketball and baseball fans to a population of people warmly embracing the cold ice of hockey along with the excitement and edge the fight for the Cup creates.
Winning 10 consecutive road games in this year’s playoffs (12 dating back to last season) en route to series victories over the 1, 2 and 3 seeds out West had the media and most fans crowning the Kings invincible heading into the Cup Finals against the also surprising New Jersey Devils.
Beating the Devils twice in Jersey only continued the clamor for the Kings, despite both games being decided in overtime and the Devils actually outplaying L.A. in Game 2. But Game 3 in L.A. was all Kings as the home team crushed the visiting Devils 4-0 making the sweep look pretty realistic.
The Kings had twice led three games to none in these playoffs and lost the fourth game at home, so it shouldn’t have shocked anybody that a desperate Devils team staved elimination with a Game 4 victory, sweeping the brooms aside. But the Kings are better on the road than on home ice making a Game 5 win all the more difficult for the Devils.
The Kings have vastly improved over the last few months (after a trade and coaching change) as the players have become so in synch with each other that L.A.’s lines seem to move in flawless formations with each man knowing exactly what each of his teammates is doing and where on the ice he’s doing it.
L.A. has won games while being outplayed because the Kings players have consistently been in the right place at the right time for rebounds, redirects and deflections near the net, on faceoffs, etc. Despite playing extremely well in Game 5, the Kings lacked their usual “right place, right time” magic. Missed shots that lingered deliciously close to Martin Brodeur and were ripe for the taking went untouched by the Kings who were often times nowhere near position when it came to rebounds and second chances. The Kings were off-kilter while the Devils were carried on the back of Brodeur.
With Bryce Salvador’s shot deflecting off of L.A.’s Slava Voynov and into the net, along with captain Zach Parise’s goal, the Devils found themselves with the “right place, right time” style typically fit for the Kings.
With the 2-1 victory, the Devils became the first team to force a Game 6 after losing the the first three in the Stanley Cup Final since 1945 and only the third team ever (out of 26) to do so since adopting a seven-game series format in 1939.
Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have overcome a 0-3 deficit in the finals to win Lord Stanley’s cup. 33 years later, the New York Islanders turned the 0-3 upside down on the Penguins, beating Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1975 quarterfinals.
But what has me worried is what I watched with my own two eyes while I lived in Boston in 2010 as the Philadelphia Flyers became only the third team (in 167 tries) in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series. The momentum shift was palpable in that series, like a ship swaying back and forth on choppy waters. The ship finally settled in Philly’s favor after the Flyers took Game 5. That was the turning point, the halfway mark.
It’s easy to say, “boy, it sure is hard to beat a team four straight times.” Heck, I thought there was NO WAY that after winning 20 straight games, the Spurs could lose four in a row to the Thunder. It just didn’t make sense.
But it does make sense, especially in a sport like hockey where one mistake can cost an entire game. The first two games in this series could’ve gone either way. The series easily could have returned to L.A. with the Devils leading 2-0. That’s why it is so hard to predict “if the Kings lose Game 6, they’re done. The momentum will be clearly on the Devils’ side and it’s over.” All of the momentum in the world can’t stop one guy from making one mistake, turning the tide.
If the Kings do lose Game 6 at home, Game 7 will prove to be one fierce battle for the crown as it will truly be anyone’s game. I say Kings in six, or Devils in seven.
Jackie Pepper is a sports journalist with nearly a decade of experience. As an anchor and reporter for Comcast SportsNet in Boston she covered the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins for the network's flagship show SportsNet Central and sister station New England Cable News.
In addition to her work with Comcast Boston, Pepper also anchored and reported for CBS affiliate KIDK, covering the Utah Jazz and various sports teams throughout the United States.
Pepper began her sports journalism career as a college radio reporter and talk show host at the University of Arizona. She went on to work for ABC Sports, ESPN and NFL Network. Recently she started her own sports website, www.pepperonsports.com, featuring daily interviews, commentary and articles on the latest sports news.
Pepper also frequently contributes to LIVE radio broadcasts as a guest sports and cultural analyst.
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