EL SEGUNDO – Kings coach Darryl Sutter, noted hockey sage, once broke down a best-of-7 playoff series this way: “You don’t get nothing for three.” Wins, that is, and in a technical sense, he’s correct.
The fourth victory is all that matters – just ask the San Jose Sharks – but under the proper circumstances, three can be soul-draining. Two years ago, on their way to the Stanley Cup, the Kings won the first three games of every series, including Games 1 and 2 on the road. Now they’re up to their old tricks.
The Kings lead the Ducks, 2-0, in this second-round series, going into Thursday’s Game 3 at Staples Center. Having won two tight games on the road, the Kings don’t want to cede any of the turf they won at Honda Center.
“We know how quickly a series can change,” defenseman Drew Doughty said Wednesday. “It just takes one moment sometimes. It could be a fight or a big goal or anything. So we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas pedal. We can’t let them back in the series.”
The Kings have two tangible reasons to avoid self-satisfaction. In the first round, they trailed, 3-0, against the Sharks, them made a historic four-game comeback that included two road victories.
Also, this has been a tight series. The Ducks were poised to take Game 1 until the Kings tied it with seven seconds remaining, then won in overtime. In Game 2, the Kings nursed a one-goal lead for much of the night, and were outshot by a wide margin, until Dwight King’s final-minute empty-net goal.
“You can’t get complacent,” center Anze Kopitar said. “We didn’t necessarily play our best hockey, but we somehow managed to squeak both of them out. Now we’ve got to come home with energy and focus.”
The Kings want to repeat history. In 2012, by virtue of their eighth-place finish in the Western Conference, the Kings started each playoff series on the road, then became the first team in NHL history to start 2-0 on the road in every round. The jump-starts pushed them past Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and New Jersey.
A 2-0 deficit is far from a death sentence, but when the losses are at home, they feel extra deflating. Further, a Game 3 victory gives the series-trailing team hope. A Game 3 loss gets them thinking about golf.
“You know what history says,” center Jarret Stoll said. “A 2-0 lead is great, but it’s not four wins.”
The Kings’ two injured defensemen, Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, did not practice Wednesday, and neither is expected to play in Game 3. Jeff Carter was the only Kings forward not to practice, but Sutter indicated Carter was merely taking a semi-regular rest day and would play.
STAYING ON TARGET
Doughty, still trying to manage the injured shoulder he suffered late in the regular season, seems to be taking more than his share of hits from the Ducks, but said he’s not getting frustrated by the attention.
“If anything, it makes you hungrier,” Doughty said. “Knowing that you’re a target out there, it makes you want to work harder to avoid those hits and make a difference out there. When they’re targeting you and you’re still being successful, that’s the most frustrating thing for them.”