Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
One win separates the Los Angeles Kings from a trophy heavy enough to be used as workout equipment.
The Kings can clinch the franchise's first Stanley Cup against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night in Newark, N.J.
The Los Angeles Kings needed a five-game losing streak by the Dallas Stars just to qualify for the postseason. How in the name of Zach Galifianakis are they doing this right now?
No No. 8 seed has ever won a title in any of the four major sports and the Kings are only the third to make it to the finals. The New Yorks Knicks were defeated easily by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals, while the Edmonton Oilers lost a thrilling seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2006.
Since 2003, only two Stanley Cup Finals participants have finished the regular season with fewer points than the Kings (95 points) did in 2011-12: the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 (88 points) and the sixth-seeded Calgary Flames (94 points) back in 2004. Neither team took home the Cup.
It's not like Los Angeles has been scratching and clawing their way to victories, either. They've been flat-out dominant in the postseason.
If the Kings are able to wrap up the series on Saturday, they'll end the playoffs with a record of 16-3. In the last 25 years, only one team has finished the postseason with a better record: the 1987-88 Oilers. Their top scorers that season were Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Maybe you've heard of them.
What makes the Kings' storybook run even more improbable is the absence of a superstar scorer. Anze Kopitar led the team in points this season with 76, tied for the 15th-highest point total in the league. Since 2000, only three champions have been led by a scorer who finished outside the top 12 in scoring. And amongst Cup winners, only Detroit's Brendan Shanahan (75 points in 2001-02), New Jersey's Patrick Elias (57 points in 2002-03) and Boston's Milan Lucic (62 points) have produced fewer points while also leading their team in scoring.
So, back to the question at hand. How have the Kings been doing this?
Los Angeles' offense was laughable during the regular season. Their 2.29 goals-per-game average was second-worst in the NHL and more than a full goal behind the Pittsburgh Penguins' league-leading 3.33 goals-per-game average.
But in the playoffs, the Kings have upped their intensity on the offensive end of the ice and it's made a giant difference. They're scoring 2.78 goals per game in the playoffs, which is the third-highest average of the 16 playoff teams (the Penguins again blew everybody out of the water with 4.33 goals per contest).
It's been a balanced attack for Los Angeles. Seven players on the Kings' roster have tallied at least 11 points this postseason with Kopitar again leading the way with 19 points in 18 games.
Increased aggressiveness has been the key to the Kings' offensive success. During the regular season, Kopitar averaged just 2.8 shots on goal per game while Dustin Brown only put 2.61 pucks on goal each night. Heading into Wednesday night's Game 4 at the Staples Center, Kopitar was posting 3.18 shots on goal per game during the playoffs with Brown notching 3.12 a game. For Brown, that's a full half shot per game more than his regular-season average.
They've also been more efficient. In the regular season, Kopitar was scoring on just under 11 percent of his chances. Throughout the playoffs, he's had a 14.8 percent success rate. Brown (10.3 percent to 13), Jeff Carter (11.1 to 12.5), Drew Doughty (from 6 percent to 9.5) and Dustin Penner (5.9 to 8.8) also have been more accurate with their shots during the postseason.
The Kings have been lousy on the power play (10.8 percent), but they've been superb when they've been a man down. After finishing fourth in the NHL in penalty killing during the regular season (87 percent), Los Angeles has improved to 93.1 percent in the postseason, the best percentage in the league by far.
The Kings also have poked in five shorthanded goals during the playoffs, which is amazing considering they had just nine short-handers in the 82-game regular season. Philadelphia (four) is the only other playoff team with more than one shorthanded goal.
But if Los Angeles raises the Stanley Cup this weekend, most of the credit belongs to Jonathan Quick, the team's stud goaltender from Hamden, Conn.
The 26-year-old was unreal in the regular season and he's been even better in the playoffs. Quick was fifth in the NHL in save percentage (.929), second in goals against average (1.95) and first in shutouts (10) this season. Since the playoffs got underway in early April, Quick has racked up an outstanding .948 save percentage (second behind Vancouver's Corey Schneider), three shutouts (tied with Phoenix's Mike Smith and New York's Henrik Lundqvist for the most this postseason) while earning a 1.39 GAA (second to Schneider's 1.31 mark).
If the Kings can win one of the next three games (and odds are they will: they're 10-0 on the road this postseason), Quick should be a lock for the Conn Smythe trophy awarded annually to the league's top playoff performer.
Los Angeles has to like its chances if any of the next three games go into overtime. After going just 9-15 in overtime during the regular season, so far the Kings are a perfect 4-0 in overtime games this postseason. In regular- season play, overtime lasts only five minutes before going into a shootout. Clearly, Los Angeles has benefited from the playoffs' sudden death overtime rules: three of their four overtime game-winners have come after the five- minute mark.
We're witnessing history, folks. And to think that if the Stars had won only a couple more games, none of this would be happening right now. Thanks, Dallas.
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