Jonathan Quick, Alec Martinez

Escape Kings: L.A.’s brushes with elimination

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The Los Angeles Kings only lost four games in their astounding 2012 title run. In stark contrast, they were pushed to the brink of elimination in all but one of their series in winning a second Stanley Cup this year.

If you want to make an argument that some teams are best with their backs against the wall, the 2014 Kings might be your Exhibit A. Let’s look back at their sterling efforts when they faced elimination.

(Interestingly, the Kings struggled quite a bit more when they were trying to put another team away. But let’s leave that out to keep this post from being 15,000 words.)

Sharks series

In case you somehow forgot, the Sharks went up 3-0 in this series, only to …

Game 4 vs. San Jose: Kings win 6-3

Who knew how correct Darryl Sutter was in saying that the Kings wouldn’t go away quietly when they were down 3-0 to San Jose? The Kings saw 1-0 and 2-1 leads go away but never trailed in that Game 4, so they passed that early test without too many scares.

The Kings claimed they saw fear build in the Sharks’ eyes as the series got closer to being tied.

Game 5 vs. San Jose: Kings win 3-0

Tyler Toffoli scored the first goal 8:09 into the first period and the Kings didn’t really struggle in protecting a 2-0 first period lead. Jonathan Quick’s hot streak was really taking off at this point.

Game 6 vs. San Jose: Kings win 4-1

Justin Williams gave the Kings a 1-0 lead that they carried for a good chunk of this game, yet things were nervous in the second period. James Sheppard managed to tie things up 12:26 into that frame. Most interestingly, the Kings took three penalties in less than four minutes of game time, including an interference penalty from Robyn Regehr and a high-sticking infraction from Jarret Stoll just 23 seconds apart. You could argue that run of chances was San Jose’s best chance to finally put L.A. away.

Los Angeles pulled away in the third period with its season on the line as Williams and Anze Kopitar combined for three goals in less than three minutes. Things got very nasty at the end of Game 6, including an altercation between Joe Thornton and Quick.

Game 7 vs. San Jose: Kings win 5-1

After a scoreless first period, the Sharks finally scored the first goal of a game in which the Kings were facing elimination in this series as Matt Irwin made it 1-0 early in the second.

That didn’t matter for very long, however, as the Kings scored twice in the middle frame and rattled off five unanswered goals to become one of the few teams to come back from down 3-0 in a series. Quick only allowed two goals in the last three games, beginning a pattern of strong finishes by Los Angeles.

Ducks series

The Kings actually took a 2-0 series lead but eventually found themselves down 3-2 against Anaheim.

Game 6 vs. Anaheim: Kings win 2-1

Jake Muzzin opened the scoring in the first period while Trevor Lewis made it 2-0 with about six minutes left in the second period. Kyle Palmieri cut the lead in half to 2-1 about a minute and a half later, yet that’s as close as the Ducks would get on that night.

Game 7 vs. Anaheim: Kings win 6-2

The Kings made their 5-1 win in Game 7 against San Jose look heated compared to this anticlimactic contest. Williams, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards gave the Kings a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Kopitar and Marian Gaborik didn’t take long to beef that lead up to 5-0. While the Ducks’ goalie carousel continued, Quick continued to be a brick wall when Los Angeles needed him the most.

Blackhawks series

The shoe was on the other foot in this series. Los Angeles had a 3-1 lead after losing Game 1, yet the Blackhawks narrowly avoided elimination in Games 5 and 6 before setting up a fantastic finish.

Game 7 vs. Chicago: Kings win 5-4 in OT

After seeing the Blackhawks barely beat them in two heated games to stretch that classic Western Conference finals to the limit, the Kings managed their own late heroics. To start things off, the Kings survived an early onslaught from Chicago. The ‘Hawks generated 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 leads yet couldn’t put Los Angeles away. Most dramatically, Gaborik managed to send it to OT with a late third period goal. Alec Martinez’s shot bounced it past Corey Crawford and the Kings managed to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

***

One might argue that the Kings struggled mightily when the Blackhawks and New York Rangers faced elimination instead of the other way around. Los Angeles generally did things the hard way in this impressive 2014 run, yet they managed to get to the finish line nonetheless.

Sure, you could linger on how close they were to getting bounced … although aside from that Game 7 classic against Chicago, the Kings generally turned it up quite a few notches when their season was on the line.

Oilers apologize to former player who is, in fact, ‘alive and well’

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Longtime Oilers dressing room attendant Joey Moss, along with former Oilers Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, watch as a banner is lowered from the rafters during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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In an emotional farewell ceremony to Edmonton’s Rexall Place last month, organizers somehow overlooked one rather significant detail about a former WHA player.

We will let the Oilers explain:

Oilers Entertainment Group would like to issue a formal apology to former Edmonton Oiler (WHA) Roger Cote and his family. In a special segment during the Farewell Rexall Place Night on April 6, 2016, the organization honoured members of the Oilers Alumni who have unfortunately passed on. In an extreme oversight and error, we included Mr. Cote in that portion of the program. Roger is alive and well, living in Garson, Ontario. For this action and any confusion or pain it caused Mr. Cote and his family and friends, we sincerely apologize.

In addition to recognizing the error and issuing an apology, the Oilers added that they will be hosting Cote and his son at a game at Rogers Place next season.

Cote played two seasons for Edmonton during the WHA days.

The ceremony following the final game at Rexall Place involved more than 150 Oilers alumni members, staff and special guests, as well current members of the organization, according to the Oilers.

Isles need ‘a short memory,’ can’t get hung up on Game 3 disappointment

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 03: Brian Boyle #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning scores the game winning goal at 2:48 of the first overtime against Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on May 03, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Lightning defeated the Islanders 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) – Despite a disappointing overtime loss in their last game, the New York Islanders were pleased with their improved play.

Now, after falling behind in their second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders know they’ll have to keep it up to have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

“It was our best game so far,” center Frans Nielsen said. “Just have to come out and try to be even better next game.”

After a bad loss in Game 2 in Tampa, the Islanders came out with the increased aggressive play coach Jack Capuano was looking for back in front of the raucous home crowd in Brooklyn. New York was 39 seconds from taking a 2-1 series lead, but the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov gave the seesaw game its fourth tie, and then Brian Boyle won it less than three minutes into the extra period.

That gave the Lightning the series lead with Game 4 on Friday night back at Barclays Center before shifting to Tampa for Game 5 on Sunday.

Capuano said the players need to forget the loss and just focus on the things they did well.

“It’s a short memory,” Capuano said. “It was probably one of the best games we played all year so there’s a lot of positives you can take. We finally got our D activating more than we want in the offense. … Hopefully, we can build on some of those things. That was Islander hockey, we played to our identity. And that’s the way that we’re going to have to play if we’re going to have success in this series.”

One of the things they did better was get more shots on goal, finishing with 39 in Game 3 after totaling 42 in the first two games.

The Islanders also were more physical with 44 hits, compared to 34 for the Lightning. Those included several punishing jolts, including the two that gained national attention. The first by New York’s Thomas Hickey on Jonathan Drouin, who was knocked out of the game in the second period before returning in the third and assisting on the tying score in the final minute of regulation.

The other was by Boyle on Hickey in the OT just before Boyle went down the ice and scored.

Capuano believed Boyle’s hit was too high and thought he could be suspended a game by the NHL. However, the defenseman was not sanctioned and the Lightning expect the physical play to continue. Tampa Bay, which reached the Stanley Cup Final last year, isn’t taking anything for granted.

“This series has so much more, so long to go,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Everybody that’s watching this series is looking forward to Game 4.”

Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman added: “We’re going to have to play at the same level the next game on Friday. It’s going to be a tough game again so we have to be ready.”

The Islanders are trailing in a series for the first time this postseason. They alternated wins with Florida in the first five games of the first round before closing it out in Game 6 at home for their first playoff series win in 23 years. Then, they won the opener against the Lightning, but have lost two straight since.

“We just got to keep pushing,” said forward Josh Bailey, who scored twice in Game 3. “I think we’ll tweak some things, refocus. … The next game is the most important now and our focus won’t change.”

New York needs a win to avoid going back to Tampa in a 3-1 hole.

“It’s for sure a must-win for us, it feels like now,” Nielsen said. “We just got to come out and play the way we did (Tuesday) and give ourselves a chance to win.”

One loss from elimination, the Caps say they’re ‘not afraid’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on during the third period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy…

After going into the playoffs as the favorites to win it all…

After all the talk that this could finally be the year…

All of a sudden, the Washington Capitals must win three straight games to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.

One more loss and it’s over until next year.

One more loss and it’s heartbreak, again, in D.C.

Well, well, well, it didn’t take long for the first column about Alex Ovechkin’s legacy to come out. Everyone knows the narrative: lose to Sidney Crosby‘s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Great 8 will suffer yet another painful, humiliating loss.

How much responsibility does Ovechkin bear? Why do his teams never win? Is it something about him?

You know those questions are coming. It doesn’t matter if they’re fair. Who says the questions have to be fair? One more loss and they’re coming. One more loss and the finger-pointing starts.

Because it was supposed to be different this time. Not only did the Caps have the world’s greatest goal-scorer, they had depth down the middle, depth on the back end, and a Vezina Trophy finalist in net. They could score. They could defend. They even brought in Mr. Game 7 himself.

On paper, they had it all.

And now?

Three straight wins to stave off elimination. That’s what they need now.

“This group is not afraid of where we’re at,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters Friday. “We know where we’re at. We’re realists. But at the same time, we know that we won a lot of games this year, and that didn’t happen by accident.”

Trotz is right, it didn’t happen by accident. The Caps are a very good team. They proved it during the regular season.

The problem is, so are the Penguins.

And the Penguins are proving it now.

Related: Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives’

Will Sutter take ‘punches in the gut’ and return to coach Kings?

Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter listens to a question during a news conference after Chicago Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Kings in the second overtime period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals, Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Chicago. The Blackhawks advance to the Stanley Cup finals. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Darryl Sutter has an offer on the table to return as the Kings’ head coach, and GM Dean Lombardi isn’t concerned about him walking away.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing in Los Angeles.

In Friday’s conference call, Lombardi acknowledged the Kings are in a bit of a tough spot, and need to reevaluate things after missing the playoffs two years ago and getting bounced in five games this season.

“I think there’s an offer that’s certainly respectable, but I don’t think this is about money,” Lombardi said, per Yahoo. “I think it’s ‘are we ready to do this’ because it’s going to be a lot of work. And just like building it in the past, you stick with some tough times.

“We’re not going back to there, but to get this back on track there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

Sutter, 57, has been with L.A. for the last five seasons and enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, winning two Stanley Cups. His direct, no-nonsense approach is admired (even if his players locked him out of the dressing room once) and he’s incredibly tight with Lombardi, dating back from their time together in San Jose.

Sutter — from Viking, Alberta, population 1,041 — also enjoys life in L.A. He says living in Manhattan Beach is “awesome” and “basically a small town.”

But for all the good stuff, the last two years have been tumultuous off the ice — Slava Voynov’s domestic violence charge, Jarret Stoll‘s drug arrest, Mike Richards‘ contract termination — and underwhelming on it.

The Kings’ defensive depth has been whittled away, and was exposed in this year’s postseason loss to the Sharks. Veterans Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik — who combine for nearly $11 million in cap space — have struggled, and both are on the wrong side of 30.

The club wants to retain power forward Milan Lucic, and are working towards a contract extension. But with a tight cap situation, it wasn’t surprising to hear Lombardi explain he doesn’t see a deal getting done anytime soon.

Lombardi later admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.”

As for Sutter, he’s yet to speak publicly to reporters about his plans for next year.