Now that my head swims less in liquor and more in reason, albeit slightly nauseous reason, I want to reflect a bit on what we’ve seen so far, not just in this Kings/Blues series, but around the NHL in round two of the 2012 playoffs.
Starting back East, lines of superiority are being blurred, as they often are so wonderfully in the post season. Washington goes toe to toe with New York and New Jersey finds ways to edge out the preposed juggernaut Flyers. Before the playoffs began there were two team that scared me in the East, New York and to a lesser extent the Flyers.
The Rangers are solid and up and down their roster, with no glaring weaknesses. They possess firepower, defense, a world class goalie and outstanding coaching. Washington, still riding high from ousting the former Cup champs in a dramatic 7 game series, are leaning heavily on their own goaltender. Whoever said after the Blackhawks won their Cup with an average Niemi in net that the era of the goalie-driven cup teams was over, has since been silenced. This playoffs has been all about the tending.
While the Capitals hold their own and are only down a game, ultimately I still see the Rangers taking care of business. Holtby won’t play above his pay grade forever and even if he does, he is still outmatched by Lundqvist and the Rangers superior forward group will win the day. Rags will finish this one up in 6.
The Flyers are down 2-1 against the Devils. Who would have guessed? Not me, since I was praying the Devils would lose their own first round game 7 to the Panthers. New Jersey is proving again that defense and goaltending mixed with balanced offense eventually topple a team built primarily on offense. For all Philadelphia’s rock ‘em sock ‘em ways, they find themselves behind the 8-ball when matched against a team that plays a tight system. I still want the Kings to play the Flyers in the Cup finals, for the sake of the poets, and I do see them righting this ship and taking back control of the series, but I don’t see them getting past the Rangers after that. Universe has a few more solid wins in him, but not enough to make it past the Finals. This one is going to 7 games and Martin Brodeur will simply have to go gently into that good night.
Do the Rangers and Flyers still scare me? The Rangers a little, the Flyers not at all. The orange freaks are a one note team. Granted its a shockingly loud note, but not loud enough to drown a symphony. The Rangers are the conducted orchestra and thus do give me slight pause when I imagine Gary Bettman’s wet dream of a LA vs NY cup finals, but not as much as they did when these playoffs began.
Now Bobby will say I’m getting ahead of myself, but as he is expectedly literal during the season and I predictably superstitious, Scribe has unexpectedly gone paranoid this post season and my typical harebrained beliefs have been stifled. Or perhaps just replaced with the faith that prayer brings.
On to the West.
Phoenix… oh Phoenix. I’ve asked a few people “Do you know the one team left that really scares me?” Nearly all of them have quickly said “Phoenix”.
The Coyotes may have caught the Predators napping, and Nashville will likely come back tonight swinging and are likely to make a real series out of what initially looked like it might be a blowout, but these are both teams that play the complete game. Nashville doesn’t scare me because the Kings own the Predators and Rinne’s name alone precludes him from having real success.
Of the 4, I’ve seen the least of this series but Phoenix, like the Kings, is hot at the right time, has an offense that is balanced, a system that is religiously adhered to and a goalie that can absolutely control a game when called upon. I have the hardest time predicting this series, but whoever wins, I hope its in a bloody mess of a game 7.
And finally the Kings. Oh our Kings. The righteous team. I wanted this series so badly. I knew we could whip the Blues. I knew we matched up against them well. I knew their inexperience would succor them into mistakes and their goaltending wouldn’t hold a candle to ours.
What I did not know was how completely we would be able to unravel their team.
The St. Louis Blues have been undone, in a sense, singlehandedly by Dwight King. This supposedly tough, but clean team was instantly flustered by a questionable hit to their star defenseman. Whereas I once was dismayed by the Kings lack of a response to questionable hits against Kopitar or Doughty, I never once saw the team become unglued because of such a play.
At first the Blues had no answer for Quick, the unsolvable riddle. Then they had nothing to say to our intensity. Next they were wanting for an emotional response from us to their own physical exuberance and finally, as we saw last night, they have shut down completely, gone comatose when asked for the answer. No hand is raised, the wheels stopped turning. The Blues team we played in game 3 was a shell of the team that shocked and awed the league after Hitchcock took over.
The Kings are hungrier, fiercer, tighter and more deadly. Our gap control is out of this world, our star players are stepping up while at the same time our role players are contributing regularly. This is no one player’s team, this is as collective an effort and cohesive a group as I’ve ever seen the Los Angeles Kings deploy. What warms my heart are not just the full 60 minute efforts but the response to adversity. When they do make mistakes, which will inevitably happen, they carry on unfazed. King Kong’s goal last night was testament to this. Drew Doughty’s was so timely it made up for the utter lack of timing with which he negotiated his contract.
Some say the bounces are just finally going our way. Bull.
The bounces are always there, but we have always in the past missed the bounce. No matter how many fortuitous pucks hop off the boards or bodies in advantageous ways, no one says you “got the bounces” if you don’t cash in on those opportunities. Pucks will find their way to your sticks if you play the game with integrity of system, confidence and determination.
We are unflappable.
Sunday we forget our own history as we resign the Blues to nothing but. Sunday we reach the point of no return on our way to the Cup.
Expectations take a back seat to faith.