EN ROUTE TO LOS ANGELES – The more I hear Justin Williams of the Los Angeles Kings speaks, the more I like what he has to say. His candor is refreshing in a game where monosyllabic and cliché-ridden responses are often the rule. The Kings, generally speaking, have a room of enlightened and refreshingly frank players and Williams is one of the best.
To wit, his comment about how luck has played a part in the Stanley Cup final so far. “Puck luck is for cop outs,” Williams said the day after his team lost Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final 2-1.
It’s an easy out for those looking for excuses. NHL players train all their lives for this moment and they are among the best athletes in the world. Luck has almost nothing to do with the outcome. So much has been made of the Rangers so-called rotten luck prior to Game 4 in the final. But were they unlucky when they drew the Philadelphia Flyers, perhaps the worst team in this year’s playoffs, in the first round? Were they less-than-fortunate when the Pittsburgh Penguins spit the bit against them in Round 2? Were they victims of misfortune when Carey Price went down in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final?
Believe in luck if you will, but Justin Williams doesn’t, nor should he. And that is precisely why the Kings should not be the least bit worried about how this Stanley Cup is unfolding. That’s why they should not change a thing. And that’s why, unless the Rangers can elevate their play and Henrik Lundqvist can play in future games exactly the way he played in Game 4, they’re going to win this thing at some point.
Stanley Cup finals are not dictated by luck. They’re dictated by which team is better and since this series started, that gap between the Kings and Rangers has become a massive chasm. The Kings did not win Games 1 and 2 because they were lucky. They won because once they got themselves in a hole, they imposed their will on the game and took complete control. The Rangers did not win Game 4 because they were lucky. They won because their goaltender turned in an all-world performance.
The Kings have to be feeling pretty good about their chances in this series, even after Game 4. They dominated the faceoff circle, the shot margin and the possession game. Perhaps they might want to take body a little more, but that’s easier said than done. If you can believe it, the Rangers are actually outhitting the Kings in this series, by a margin of 141-140. But the Kings are finding that it’s difficult to initiate contact when you have the puck on your stick all the time. Why would you ever need to hit your opponent when you’re starting out with the puck the majority of the time and controlling it for ridiculously long periods of time?
What the Kings actually have to do is be a little more assertive in front of the net. It’s no coincidence that the Rangers and Lundqvist became unglued in Game 2 when Dwight King scored a controversial goal that should have been called back for goaltender interference. Perhaps if the Kings have a little more thrust in the offensive zone, one of those two pucks that stopped on the goal line gets pushed over it and the Kings take the game to overtime.
“Move on, be in a good place today,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter told reporters Thursday, “be ready for tomorrow.”
It might sound simple, but it’s spot on. And if the Kings are as ready for Game 5 as they were for Games 3 and 4, it will be only a matter of time.