It's been a long and bumpy road for the Kings this season, yet they managed to squeak into the playoffs for the third season in a row and tonight they begin their postseason journey against the Vancouver Canucks. I've spent a lot of time the past few days informally discussing what I think will happen in the post season, but I decided it was time to pull the trigger and commit to a prediction. For better or worse, here goes. If I'm right, I'll give myself a little pat on the back for knowing a thing or two about this team. If I'm wrong, feel free to rub my nose in it.
I have to preface what I'm about to write by saying I love the Kings (sometimes to unhealthy levels) and want nothing more than to see them raise the Stanley Cup. I think anyone who has watched this team all season knows this a not Cup team yet, but I'm betting most of you still hold out hope for the Kings to take that most desired "next step" by getting past the first round and going deeper into the playoffs.
I don't think it's the Kings year to do THAT either.
Before I explain why, let me get one thing out of the way. This is NOT about the Canucks. I am not afraid of the Canucks and neither are the Kings. Yes, they've won the President's Trophy two years running and you have to be a pretty damn good team to do that. But the Canucks are not invincible -- they are beatable. The Kings have proved that during the regular season.
The Kings have also proved time and time again during the season that they have a talent for beating themselves. Most importantly, they still haven't shown the discipline to play 60 consistent minutes of hockey. And they have difficulty closing the deal when an opportunity presents itself -- like the last two games of the regular season against the San Jose Sharks. I know it's a commonly held belief that the regular season doesn't mean anything as long as you make it in to the playoffs, but I respectfully disagree with that notion. The regular season is the time to build the habits to make a team successful. If those habits become ingrained enough during the season, they have a better chance of being executed in the playoffs as well.
So why are habits so important? Because of pressure. Under pressure, even people who can normally execute a task correctly see a reduction in their ability to do so when pressure is applied. This is the case whether your job is playing hockey or hand crafting widgets. The fact that the Kings haven't developed more consistent habits -- most notably in scoring at critical moments -- will be the factor that keeps them from getting into the second round REGARDLESS OF WHO THE OPPONENT IS.
When the Kings and Canucks last met in 2010, it was the first time in 8 long years the Kings had even been to the playoffs. Two seasons later, the Kings have a stronger roster and more playoff experience -- but some of the same old emotional demons. It will be a hard fought series and the Kings will give everything they have. In the end, it just won't be quite enough. That's a habit this team has to break to get to the next level.
Canucks in 6.