Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All-Time Los Angeles Kings' Game 7s

By now we've all seen it all over the place that the Kings are 3-4 all-time in Game 7s, but the last one was 11 years ago, so even that is a distant memory for even those of us who were fans back then. Here is a little more info regarding the Kings' history in Game 7s.
April 18, 1968 vs. Minnesota North Stars

The Kings may have only played seven Game 7s in their 45-year history leading up to tonight but the more shocking fact is that their first two playoff series ever went the distance! In their inaugural season, the Kings finished 2nd in the West Division, which was composed entirely of the six expansion franchises, earning themselves home ice to begin the playoffs against the fourth seeded Minnesota North Stars.

They took advantage of their home rink to go ahead in the series two games to nothing with 2-1 and 2-0 wins before heading to Minnie. But the North Stars won a 7-5 shootout in Game 3 before edging the Kings 3-2 in a Game 4 victory. Like the current Kings-Sharks series it remained a home ice affair for Games 5 and 6 with the Kings winning 3-2 at home and then dropping a 4-3 overtime decision in Game 6.

What had been a tight series up to that point with both teams scoring 17 goals in the first six games suddenly turned into a runaway North Stars win in Game 7 as they blew the Kings out 9-4 on the Forum ice, ending what had been a fairly successful initial foray for the city of Los Angeles into the NHL.
All-Time Game 7 Record: 0-1 (0-1 at home)

April 13, 1969 vs. Oakland Seals
The first Battle of California (or California Clash or whatever the hell you want to call it) occurred in both the Kings' and Seals' second seasons in the NHL. The Kings had not been nearly as successful in their second campaign, finishing with only 24 wins and 42 losses, but in the incredibly weak expansion division in which every team but St. Louis finished below .500, it was good for 4th place (incidentally, all of the Original Six teams finished over .500 but Chicago and Detroit still missed out on the playoffs), and a first round date with 2nd place Oakland, who had gone 29-36-11.

The Kings stole home ice advantage by winning the first game in overtime in Oakland but then proceeded to drop the next two before knotting things up with a 4-2 win at the Forum in Game 4. The teams alternated home ice wins in Games 5 and 6 before the Kings skated into their first ever road Game 7 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena. (Quite a mouthful, and before the days of corporate sponsorship, no less; today it's the Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors.)

Despite taking 7 penalties in the first period, the Kings held on to beat Oakland 5-3 and moved on to face the Blues in the second round.
All-Time Game 7 Record: 1-1

April 25, 1976 vs. Boston Bruins
The Kings had one of their best seasons in their short history in 1976 with Marcel Dionne, Butch Goring, and Rogie Vachon leading the way. They finished second in the Norris Division to the Montreal Canadiens, though to be fair they were 42 points back. In the first round of the playoffs they swept the Atlanta Flames with 2-1 and 1-0 victories. But in the second round they met up with the highly favored Boston Bruins who pounded them 4-0 in the series opener.

But the Kings came back to win Games 2 & 3 3-2 (OT) and 6-4 before dropping Games 4 & 5 by a combined 10-1 count. Another overtime win in Game 6 at home though sent the series back to Boston where anything could have happened.

But of course what did happen was that Boston's Gerry Cheevers pitched his third shutout of the series, sending the Kings packing.
All-Time Game 7 Record: 1-2

April 15, 1989 vs. Edmonton Oilers
8 months after trading for Wayne Gretzky, the Kings found themselves facing his former team, defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. Obviously, the Oilers were missing a pretty key ingredient from those Cup wins as 99 skated for L.A. but the fact that they had been to the Finals five of the previous six seasons and would in fact win it again the next year tells you it was still a pretty good hockey club.

The Oilers stole home ice advantage right off the bat with a 4-3 win, but the Kings tied the series by winning 5-2 in Game 2. The Kings then dropped both contests in Edmonton 4-0 and 4-3 to trail the series 3 games to 1. But Gretzky and a minor league call-up named Chris Kontos who scored 8 goals in the series helped the team storm back to take Games 5 & 6 4-2 and 4-1, the latter snapping a 14-game home playoff winning streak for the Oilers.

Back in LA for Game 7, Gretzky scored the opening goal in the first minute and the Kings never looked back, blasting the Oilers 6-3 and ending their hopes of a three-peat.
All-Time Game 7 Record: 2-2 (1-1 at home)

May 29, 1993 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The greatest game in Kings history before 2012 and the finale to what many people call the best playoff series they ever saw. The first time in franchise history that they had ever advanced beyond the second round after knocking off favored Calgary and Vancouver in the opening rounds, each in six games. The Kings dropped the opening game of the Campbell Conference Finals 4-1 in Toronto but came back to steal home ice advantage with a 3-2 Game 2 win. After winning Game 3 at home, the Kings faced elimination for the first time in the 1993 playoffs when the Leafs took Game 4 in L.A. and then an overtime thriller in Game 5.

The Kings looked like they were going to force Game 7 as they dominated early, taking a 4-1 lead. But Maple Leafs captain Wendell Clark was ready to get the Leafs back into the Finals for the first time since 1967 and powered his team back into it with three 3rd period goals, sending it to overtime. It was in OT that Wayne Gretzky scored a controversial goal moments after escaping a penalty for high sticking Doug Gilmour (you can watch Leafs fans still whining about this here).

In Game 7, Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player in NHL history, played arguably the greatest game of his entire career. In Toronto, not far from where he grew up, with the hockey world claiming he was over the hill and that he wouldn't be able to get the job done against a superior Maple Leafs club, he found the back of the net three times.

The Kings won the game 5-4 to punch their first ticket ever to the Stanley Cup Finals.
All-Time Game 7 Record: 3-2

May 9, 2001 vs. Colorado Avalanche
An emotionally charged second round series in 2001 saw the Kings face off against their former captain Rob Blake who they had traded only two months earlier to Colorado. Having acquired Blake and one of the greatest defensemen of all time, Ray Bourque, over the previous year and a half, the Avalanche were heavy favorites to win the Cup, but this never-say-die Kings team took the first game of the series in Colorado 4-3 in overtime, their fifth straight win that playoff season, a franchise record until the Cup-winning season of 2012.

A controversial Game 2 loss followed by a pair of losses on home ice in Games 3 & 4 had left the Kings on the brink of elimination. What followed over the next two games was simply some of the most spectacular goaltending I've ever seen. For 8 periods, Felix Potvin shut down the high-octane offense of the Avalanche, stopping 53 shots over the next two games. The only offense provided for him was a single goal midway through the third of Game 5 by Luc Robitaille and a blast by Glen Murray in the second overtime of Game 6.

In Game 7, Blake and Emerson traded goals in the first two periods before Bryan Smolinksi got a rebound right on Patrick Roy's doorstep that he rang off the iron, keeping the game tied up at 1 apiece. It all came down to the 3rd for the Kings and Avs. Unfortunately for Kings fans, Colorado found their scoring touch once again in the third, blasting four pucks by the Cat and taking the game 5-1. They would go on to win the Cup that year, and for the Kings it would be their last trip to the second round for another 11 years.
All-Time Game 7 Record: 3-3

April 29, 2002 vs. Colorado Avalanche
The Kings met the Avs for a second straight playoff series in 2002 after dropping the seventh game a year earlier and once again Colorado was heavily favored and jumped out to a series lead, winning the first two games on home ice 4-3 and 5-3. The Kings took Game 3 but fell behind 3-1 in the series again after losing Game 4 at home. For a second straight year Potvin played the hero role, giving up only 1 goal over Games 5 & 6 as the Kings won 1-0 in overtime in Game 5 and 3-1 at home in Game 6.

But Game 7 featured a nearly identical result in 2002 as it had in 2001. The Kings skated into Denver and dropped the deciding contest by a four-goal deficit, this time failing to even register a goal as Roy shut them out 4-0. The Kings did not play another playoff game until eight years and a complete regime change had passed.
All-Time Game 7 Record: 3-4

So what can we take from all that? Not much. Every season writes a different story, even if they can sometimes be a little bit similar (see 2001 and 2002). The Kings have never entered a Game 7 as the favorites and certainly never as defending champs. Most of the players on the current roster have never been to one in their NHL careers. This will be only the third time in team history they have played a Game 7 at home, the first at Staples Center, and the second against a fellow Californian team in any venue.

Whatever happens tonight, it has been a good season watching the Los Angeles Kings defend their 2012 Stanley Cup victory, and my only wish is that we could have seen a full season of Cup defense, but hopefully they win tonight and carry the momentum forward so that we can see that in 2013-14!

Go Kings! Game 7! Bring it on!

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