Los Angeles Kings v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Seven

How this Kings team compares to the 2012 championship squad

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On paper, this Los Angeles Kings team is very similar to the one that dominated the 2012 postseason on its way to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup victory. Even so, enough has changed that it’s interesting to study the similarities and differences:

What hasn’t changed

In the grand scheme of things, the Kings’ core players are largely the same. Drew Doughty is their go-to defenseman. Dustin Brown remains their agitating, versatile captain. Anze Kopitar is the outstanding two-way center who probably doesn’t get enough league-wide attention. Jeff Carter continues to surprise people with strong play even though he’s been doing this for years. Darryl Sutter is still a quality coach who produces borderline-comical press conferences.

Much like in 2011-12, the Kings were a strong puck possession team that didn’t score a whole lot of goals during the regular season, yet they seem awfully dangerous now … in part thanks to the addition of a dangerous sniper (Marian Gaborik now, Carter then).

The cast of characters should be mostly familiar, then, although one key player has a ways to go before regaining his previous form.

A different Quick?

Simply put, Jonathan Quick played out of his mind during the 2012 playoffs. His numbers were staggering: 16-4 record, .946 save percentage, 1.41 GAA and three shutouts. Quick provided one of the best postseason runs in recent memory and often made it look easy.

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Depending upon how you look at it, Quick is either “turning it on” when the Kings need it the most this time around or is simply struggling while producing flashes of that 2012 brilliance.

More than a few people wonder if the 28-year-old is an average goalie who really just rode a hot streak or two.

There’s no denying that his overall playoff numbers are down significantly this year. Quick is 12-9 with a mediocre .906 save percentage. It’s easy to forget that the Kings faced the kind of competition that can make any goalie look vulnerable during this postseason, but the bottom line is that his doubters have been emboldened in 2013-14.

Considering the fact that Henrik Lundqvist will be in the Rangers’ net, many will give New York the goaltending edge either way.

Bumpy road

There were a lot of remarkable things about the Kings’ 2012 run, but the most surprising thing might be that the Kings didn’t face elimination a single time. In fact, they only lost four games in that entire postseason. That’s pretty astounding stuff for a team that was the eighth seed in the West.

Meanwhile, this Kings team might be as exhausted as the 2012 version was well-rested heading into the championship series.

They’ve played a maximum 21 games in three rounds. The most exhausting task arguably came when they made a remarkable comeback from down 0-3 in their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, yet things didn’t slow down from there. After all, they beat the West’s top seed (Anaheim Ducks) and the defending champions (Chicago Blackhawks) in successive seven-game series.

It’s probably never fair to call a postseason run “easy” but the Kings might have set a new bar for degree of difficulty.

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The Kings will probably go into the Stanley Cup Final as favorites, yet this team could be considerably more vulnerable than the 2012 version. Of course, Alec Martinez would likely argue that they’re that much tougher to kill off …

 

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.