Thanks to depth, Kings on unstoppable roll

As Dan Murphy reports, the line of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson (dubbed 'That 70's Line') has come up big for the Kings this postseason.

Does any team do momentum quite like the Los Angeles Kings?

The L.A. crew is just one win away from its second Stanley Cup Final appearance in three years, which in and of itself isn’t that surprising. But what is almost jarring to witness is how the Kings are just slapping around the Chicago Blackhawks, almost as if they’ve come up against some overachieving club that’s completely out of its depth in the Western Conference final, not a high-end team looking for back-to-back titles.

But one thing we should know about L.A. by now is, when the Kings get it cranked up in the post-season, look out.

Recall that in 2012 a Los Angeles team that snagged the final playoff berth in the West absolutely stormed through the playoffs, holding four 3-0 series leads en route to winning the Cup. L.A. basically blitzed its opponents and effectively ended series before they really began.

The past two seasons, the Kings have gone on similar rampages, but only after cruelly giving their opponents a head start. In 2013, L.A. fell behind 2-0 in its first-round series with the St. Louis Blues before storming back to win four straight. This year, the Kings became just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit when they added to the San Jose Sharks’ springtime torment by winning four straight to snatch that first-round series.

And while L.A. jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Anaheim Ducks in Round 2, it ultimately had to come from behind again to win games 6 and 7, blasting the Ducks 6-2 in the decisive contest.

By comparison, losing Game 1 to the Blackhawks in this year’s West final seems like small potatoes, but don’t forget, Chicago was up 2-0 with just 1:46 remaining in the second period of Game 2. That’s when Justin Williams scored to pull the Kings back in the fight. Since that goal, L.A. has outscored the Hawks 14-5 to seize a 3-1 series advantage. And we can’t stress this enough: the Kings are running over a team many point to as the class of the league. The way L.A. is rolling right now, we’d put the over/under on how many more games the team losses this year at 2.5.

How are they doing it? Balanced scoring sure helps. Just as was the case in 2012, an L.A. offence that sputtered in the regular season is suddenly soaring in the playoffs. It’s especially crazy this year, as the Kings are averaging 3.39 goals per game, thanks to a lineup that’s deeper than Steven Hawking’s mind. Star centre Anze Kopitar is pretty much running away in the Conn Smythe Trophy race, but credit general manager Dean Lombardi and his staff for the small finds along the way that are paying huge dividends.

Sure, we all knew Marian Gaborik still had a scoring touch, but did you see him leading the playoffs with 10 goals? Take a look at the score sheet from Monday’s 5-2 win and you’ll see No. 70 Tanner Pearson—part of “That 70s Line” with Jeff Carter (No. 77) and Tyler Toffoli (No. 73)—scored to register a point in his fifth straight contest. Pearson was a late-bloomer who was passed over in the NHL Draft a couple of times before the Kings nabbed him 30th overall a few days after they won the 2012 Cup.

That’s a similar story to that of defenceman Jake Muzzin, who just happened to fire his fifth goal of the playoffs in Game 4. Muzzin was drafted in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007 but never signed and played an overage year in the Ontario Hockey League before L.A. inked him as a free agent.

Find enough gems like that, and you’re bound to outshine teams—even the really, really good ones.

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