The Los Angeles Kings were down 3 games to 0, in the first round of the playoffs to the San Jose Sharks. Last night they managed to climb all the way back to even the series at 3 games apiece. rnrnThe question is how? What changed? rnrnAfter the first three games the Sharks looked not only superior, but dominant. They won the first three games by a combined score of 17-8. That includes game 2, where the Sharks rallied back from a 2-0 deficit scoring 7 unanswered goals. rnrnFrom that point on everything changed. rnrnIn the next three games the Kings became the dominating team. Winning with their backs against the wall the Kings became the dominate team avoiding elimination three consecutive times, outscoring the Sharks with a combined score of 13-4. Shutting the Sharks top line down, and holding them to 0 points in these games. rnrnHow is that possible?rnrnMany say that hockey is a game of momentum. When you have the momentum you have to ride with it. When you don’t have the momentum, you have to work to take it back as quickly as possible. How are such drastic fluctuations like the ones we’ve seen in this series accomplished? rnrnStrategy born from desperation. rnrnThe Kings have 15 players on their current roster that were members of the 2012 L.A. Kings that won the Stanley Cup. At more than their core, the Kings have the talent and experience of champions. But in 2012 they were a much more aggressive team. In each of the four series the Kings won in 2012, they started by taking 3-0 game leads, and they never looked back. It was the same year they picked up two superstars and former teammates, in blockbuster trades, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. They were an offensive juggernaut. Physical and talented, imposing their will all the way to the cup. rnrnThis year the Kings played a different style. They celebrated their strong defense, based around one of the best goaltenders in the world – Jonathan Quick. They finished the regular season with the best, lowest, goals against in the league with 174. However they were 6th worst, finishing 25th overall in goals for with 206. rnrnThey started the playoffs continuing this style of play. Tight defense, squeezing opponents, forcing them to take bad shots; limiting scoring chances. The game-plan is: don’t make mistakes, limit opponents opportunities, and take advantage of their mistakes – converting them into good scoring chances for your team. This puts your team in a good position to win close games – games typical of playoff hockey. rnrnA flaw of this strategy arises when you play a fast-paced ultra-talented team, which the Sharks are. Many experts and fans have said this is the deepest and most talented Sharks team they have seen in years. And they were good before this season. It’s the worst strategy to implement against a team with a roster and game-plan as the Sharks. They will continue to attack, put on the pressure and shoot from everywhere, taking advantage of your sitting back defensive plan. The Sharks also have the talent to avoid mistakes while capitalizing on time and space that is created because of this defensive mindset. Deflections and rebounds also become a more likely clear and present danger around the net because they are peppering the goaltender with so many shots while the Kings continue to sit back, waiting for mistakes that never come to pass. rnrnBeing down 3 games to 0 forced the Kings to think offensively – to take control and bring the game to their opponents. In essence, to return to their roots and go back on the attack. Backed into a corner, the Kings had no other choice. rnrnSo the new, amended strategy for the Kings starts with a hard forecheck. Then attacking the net, with screens and shots from everywhere. Put the puck on the net. Constantly attack the puck carrier, don’t give him time to breathe or think. Backcheck like you mean it, and in the defensive zone – which they should be familiar with because of their original, season long strategy – play tight, and don’t make mistakes. Defensemen need to be more active and jump up on the play to generate offense. If there’s a mistake, hopefully the best goaltender in the world will bail you out. Throw everything in their face, and knock the Sharks on their heels. rnrnThe Kings have executed, and now the Sharks are back on their heels. rnrnThis all-out blitzkrieg attack isn’t new; it’s the same strategy deployed by the Buffalo Sabres during their run to the Cup in 1999, that ended in Dallas with the famous, NO GOAL. At the time, the Sabres had the best goaltender in the world, Dominik Hasek. Relying on his phenomenal play and this game-plan the Sabres managed to jump and surprise a number of teams on their way to the Cup finals. rnrnThe Sharks need to come up with a strong, smart counter-attack to solve the Kings play. They’re swimming in deep water now, but hopefully they haven’t thrown themselves in the deep end of the pool to drown in front of a home crown at the SAP Pavilion Shark-Tank, for Game 7. rn Thanks for reading!
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