In the first two games of the first-round series, we had all the reason in the world to criticize the Los Angeles Kings’ performance but convenient reasons to forgive the failings. Game 3 finally saw the Kings with a full-strength (minus one Derek Forbort) lineup at home, and no excuses. For most of the game, it looked like LA wouldn’t need excuses. And yet, as Tyler Toffoli was stopped on several chances, and power plays went by the wayside, and the second period ended with the Kings again stuck on one goal... well, the ending wasn’t surprising, and the excuse wasn’t good enough because it’s the one we all tried using for the last few years. If luck had something to do with it, it’s irrelevant, because the Vegas Golden Knights won again.
I looked back at the recap I wrote after Game 3 of the first round in 2014, just for kicks. Here’s how it ended:
This game was much more like the coin flip that people were expecting from this series, and it came up Sharks.
Game 4 is Thursday. A 3-0 deficit in a series often dominated by home teams is daunting, but if LA can come back and win Game 4, who knows?
I bring this up neither to say “If the Kings did it then, they can do it now!” or to say “No chance, this team is nowhere near as good as that team!” That team was a special unicorn and should be treated as such, so no comparison is going to fly. It’s more just to note the similarity to the last time the Kings went down 3-0 in a series; it took a trip home for LA to find their footing, and just when they started getting comfortable, someone ripped out the rug from underneath them. And that’s why we’re just as upset as we were on that night.
On this night, it was Alex Iafallo who was the early hero, notching the Kings’ first goal by a forward in the entire series. Iafallo was a head-scratching healthy scratch in Game Two, but he came back tonight and buried a perfect pass from Anze Kopitar early in the second period to put LA on top. Maybe there was symbolism in the fact that the ref waved it off on the ice, as the puck rocketed back out so quickly that it was unclear whether it had gone in at all. Even the Kings’ triumphs were uncertain tonight.
And there were other triumphs! Mostly from that first line, mind you; Kopitar, Iafallo, and Dustin Brown finally won their matchup against William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. Kopitar scored a late goal which was fairly inconsequential, but gave him two points on the night and meant that, once again, he was largely responsible for any offensive highlights. Jonathan Quick was responsible for goaltending highlights, of course, as Vegas was stymied for 45 minutes or so.
LA finally cracked the Golden Knights with their hitting, somehow managing to increase their physicality in the first period and turning into a squad of William Carriers. Erik Haula’s butt-ending of Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Marchessault’s wild stick swing at Drew Doughty were emblematic, as both Kings stars gave each player a little extra to draw the response. Haula’s play was unpenalized, but it was also the worse one, in response to a more innocent play than Doughty’s punch/shove to the back of Marchessault’s head. Adrian Kempe and Jeff Carter (118 combined hits in 108 games) had nine tonight. I don’t praise hitting very often in recaps, but tonight, it worked for most of the evening.
Finally, small wins for the D: Jake Muzzin came back. That was nice. Kopitar’s goal came off a shot from Oscar Fantenberg, who had made a nice play to keep the puck in at the end of another long night of work. That was nice. Drew Doughty broke up an odd-man rush or two. Christian Folin made a couple big hits. Alec Martinez was on the ice for 11 shots for and only 5 against. Dion Phaneuf had the best CF% of them all. Nice.
Those uncertain triumphs, though. It all came crashing down in the third period, and you’ve read 600 words that might as well mean zilch. (Sorry about that.) Phaneuf and Folin lost the plot on the first Vegas goal, which tied it 1-1; Vegas had three or four wide open chances, and though Colin Miller hit the post, they weren’t so lucky when Cody Eakin got the puck back. Fantenberg and Martinez were victimized by James Neal... okay, mostly Fantenberg, who bit on a fake stop move by Neal before Neal beat Quick five-hole. Doughty and Muzzin were supposed to calm things down, but on an offensive-zone faceoff, three guys ended up below the goal line and Karlsson received a gorgeous pass from Smith.
The fact that LA once again kept it within a goal isn’t reassuring. Not anymore, and not given the frustrations of that final period. Toffoli was denied on multiple great Fleury saves, but he’s not feeling any better about how close he came to scoring either. It’s a crappy way to lose, and Kopitar’s headache isn’t just going to be from that butt-end by Haula. Maybe it would’ve been less painful if the Kings punched above their weight instead of failing to land a knockout blow? At any rate:
This game was much more like the coin flip that people were expecting from this series, and it came up Golden Knights.
Game 4 is Tuesday. A 3-0 deficit in a series often dominated by home teams is daunting, but if LA can come back and win Game 4, who knows?
... I don’t have the power to make history repeat itself, but it was worth a try.