May 15, 2012

Fischler Report: Kings' dominant run brings back memories

By Stan Fischler


While one game does not make a series, nor anoint a winner, there’s something special about the Kings. After one victory in Glendale – and a 1-0 series lead over Phoenix – Darryl Suter’s sextet impresses our pal Howard Berger.

In this excellent analysis from his blog, “Berger Bytes,” Howard offers this commentary:

While the Kings haven’t won anything yet, they are methodically piecing together the most impressive Stanley Cup romp in nearly a quarter-century.

Not since the dynasty of Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the latter half of the 1980s has a playoff team threatened to knife through the competition with such brevity.

L.A. opened the Western Conference Final with a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, improving its phenomenal record in the 2012 post-season to 9-and-1 (6-and-0 on the road, a club record).

We have to go back to 1988, when Edmonton lost two games in four playoff rounds, to recall a team barnstorming its way through the Stanley Cup tournament.

The Oilers knocked off Winnipeg 4-1; Calgary 4-0 and Detroit 4-1 before trampling the Bruins 4-0 in the Cup final – best remembered for a power-failure at Boston Garden in Game 4 (16:37 of the second period) that forced postponement of the match with the score tied 3-3.

Edmonton completed the sweep on home ice two nights later.

The Oilers of that era were arguably the most talented young team in the history of the NHL, with Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr – all future Hall of Famers – leading the way.

Rather than sneaking into the playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season, as Los Angeles did this spring, the Oilers of 1987-88 finished a solid third in the 21-team NHL with 99 points – behind only Calgary and Montreal.

When the playoffs began, it was no contest, and hardly a surprise, as Edmonton breezed to its fourth championship in five years before shocking the sports world by trading Gretzky to the Kings less than three months later.

Conversely, what Los Angeles is doing this spring was entirely unforeseen when the playoffs began the second week of April.

Most experts had the Kings bowing rather quickly to Vancouver in the opening round.

Instead, the defending Conference champion got blind-sided on home ice in the first two matches – losing both – en route to a meek, five-game surrender.

St. Louis, the NHL’s third-place club in the regular season, was also expected to oust the Kings. But, the road warriors from California marched into Scottrade Center and repeated their opening-round feat by grabbing the first two encounters.

The Blues never recovered and were swept from the playoffs amid cascading euphoria at Staples Center – L.A. becoming the first eighth-place team to banish the No. 1 and 2 seeds in a Conference.

Now, the routine appears to be starting all over again.

Phoenix had no business taking last night’s series debut into the third period tied 2-2.

The Kings swarmed the Coyotes in the opening frame – compiling a 17-4 edge in shots on goal – and increased that margin to 34-18 after two.

In a familiar scenario, however, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith kept his club alive – as he did through much of the Conference semifinal against Nashville.

That’s why the Kings haven’t won anything yet; their opponent in this round is proving to be the ultimate survivor.

But L.A. doesn’t offer much hope.

Though idle for seven days after dispatching the Blues, the Kings came out in the first period as if they had played the previous night.

The notion of a languorous start dissipated immediately, as Los Angeles maintained puck-possession in the attacking zone and struck for its customary quick goal – Anze Kopitar beating Smith just 3:53 into the match.

Ultimately, the margin of defeat flattered the home side.

OBSERVATIONS:

Former Capitals star Dale Hunter called it quits after one season as head coach in Washington. (Getty Images)

* DALE HUNTER’S rapid exit as Capitals head coach reflects the man’s concise, compact press conferences. While Hunter may have been comfortable behind the Washington bench, he seemed distinctly UN-comfortable discussing his team; win or lose. He courageously sliced Alex Ovechkin’s playing time in a move that will be analyzed for years to come. Our view is that the Caps marquee player’s style was inappropriately emasculated. On the other hand, under Hunter’s orchestration the Capitals ousted the defending-champ Bruins. And with a third-string goalie, his club came within two goals of taking out the Rangers; no small feat. But when Dale accepted the job – with only a one-year contract – he clearly made two points: 1. He wanted to get a feel for NHL coaching and, 2. He wanted to see if he liked it enough to hang around for another 82-game run. With his decision, we know the answer, succinctly and without Ovechkin’s vote of confidence!

* LOU LAMORIELLO (Providence, R.I.) shuns praise the way sunbathers avoid mosquitos. But the fact that his Devils are into their third playoff round says volumes about Lou’s master strokes. A team that The Hockey News picked to finish 11th fooled the experts thanks to pivotal moves by Lou. The Devils g.m put together a roster full of scoring depth with a blend of experience and youth. Third round steal and current Calder Trophy candidate Adam Henrique proved invaluable, serving as the club’s top center with Travis Zajac out due to injury. And Lou brilliantly managed fourth overall selection Adam Larsson, using veteran Peter Harrold as a fill-in when the 19-year-old defenseman experienced some growing pains. Additionally, mid-season acquisitions Alexei Ponikarovsky and Marek Zidlicky continue to make major contributions.

* BRUCE BOUDREAU’S re-signing through 2014-15 is good news in Duck-land. Cousin Brucie knows his onions -- and pucks -- plus he’s a colorful character who makes hockey fun in and out of Disneyland. Good move by Bob Murray!

GOSSIP:

The quiet man behind Lightning hockey is owner Jeff Vinik (Weston, Mass.). Unlike some NHL Board members, Vinik prefers quiet action over flamboyance. Here’s a recent example: A $5 million dollar video scoreboard will be installed at the Tampa Bay Times Forum prior to the start of next season. Vinik is privately funding the project. The upgraded display board will feature the largest high definition center-hung video displays in any U.S. or Canadian arena. The installation of this high-def board follows $40 million dollars worth of arena upgrades made last summer. …  

Devils veteran Patrik Elias on his club’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals: “I’m actually a little more nervous now than I was in the early years because you don’t get too many opportunities to be in the playoffs. And, after many years, you know when the team has a good chance, a legitimate chance to accomplish something. We feel that we can, so you don’t want to waste that opportunity.” …

Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch believes the Blue Jackets will have plenty of options this summer as they look to trade star Rick Nash. “The summer will provide a more fertile field for a Nash deal,” Arace writes. “If Nash is not moved at the draft, he will be moved when free-agent season commences and after the marquee unrestricted free-agent forward available, Zach Parise, signs a contract. San Jose and Boston, both first round victims, probably will be in there pitching harder than they were in February. If the Rangers fall, the bidding war will escalate.”