The Los Angeles Kings have undoubtedly been one of the best teams of the decade thus far. Regular season dominance, however, has not exactly been their strong suit in achieving that title.
Going back to late December through early February, the Kings suffered through a stretch of 15 games where they earned only three wins. At that point, chances of making the playoffs and having a shot to defend their Stanley Cup Championship were dim.
Two months and a miraculous eight-game win streak later, LA is poised to once again sneak into the postseason.
The Kings (39-25-14) currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division, trailing Calgary by 1 point. Los Angeles is tied with the Winnipeg Jets with 90 points, and the Kings hold the tiebreaker for the second and final Western Conference Wild Card spot.
With one game in hand on the Flames, and having played the same number of games as the Jets, the Kings control their own destiny. But the playoff bubble is not unfamiliar territory for Los Angeles, which has won two of the last three Stanley Cup Championships.
When the Kings won the Cup in 2011-12, they backed their way into the playoffs as an eighth seed. Similarly, just last year the Kings won the Stanley Cup as the last team to secure a divisional bid with a third-place finish in the Pacific Division.
The best way to describe how the Kings manage to thrive in pressure filled situations might simply be level of confidence. Despite already being in position to secure a wild card berth, head coach Darryl Sutter displayed firm trust that his team will earn an automatic divisional bid.
“Everybody’s trying to make the playoffs,” Sutter said when asked about playing other desperate teams down the final stretch of the season. “You’ve got to get into that division part of it. That’s the structure of the playoffs.”
Sutter continued, “[We’re] not going to get a wild-card spot. The wild-card’s out of the picture.”
After suffering back-to-back 4-1 losses to Minnesota and Chicago, the Kings responded to their coach’s lofty goal and got back on the winning track with a dominating 8-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers at home Thursday night.
Their return to the win column after the two crushing blows is an immense victory for both the team’s morale and their playoff hopes. And anybody that has seen the Kings play in the playoffs over the last three years knows that once they get in, they are difficult to beat.
"We have a lot of guys in here that thrive under pressure situations," said defenseman Drew Doughty after the win over Edmonton. "We have a lot of heart, and we believe in every single player in this room to get the job done.”
Confidence and team chemistry are two key components to a team’s postseason success, and the Kings seem to have mastered the art of both.
“We still have a chance, so that’s what I think guys in this room have been really good at, is realizing that the opportunity is there,” Kings Captain Dustin Brown said.
The Kings have made a name for themselves by making the most of their opportunities. With only four games remaining in the season and every one of them a potential must win, Los Angeles must once again prove there is nobody in today’s game that is better when the game, and the entire season, is on the line.