Miracles on Manchester and Frenzies on Figueroa are one thing.
The hernia on Chick Hearn Court that some Kings fans may prematurely give themselves by hoisting reproductions of the Stanley Cup outside of Staples Center before Wednesday night’s Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals can be prevented with a little reality check.
“I gotta keep reminding people, ‘It’s not that easy,’” said Bernie Nicholls. “Deep down, I know this is a lot tougher than it looks.”
NHL players, current and former, are nothing if not superstitious, and won’t talk about things that haven’t happened yet. But Nicholls, who played in five playoff series during his nine seasons with the Kings between 1981-’90, is trying to be far more of practical in this instance.
No one is dismissing the possibility of witnessing an event of historic proportions. The No. 8-seeded Kings – and it makes no sense to even be writing this – have the opportunity to make No. 1-seeded Vancouver vanish from the first round in four straight.
Never, ever, ever, has the No. 8 swept the No. 1. Especially one that won something called the President’s Trophy for having the best regular-season record. Ever.
But . . .
“You know how close this series really is?” said Nicholls (pictured left), a coaching consultant dressed in Kings’ sweat gear as he helped head coach Darryl Sutter run this morning’s practice at the El Segundo training facility. “Either team could be up 3-0. But it’s not even a 3-0 series. Maybe 1 -to 1, that’s what is should be.
“The funny thing about the playoffs is that one goal – one hit, one penalty – can turn everything around. (Canucks goalie Roberto) Luongo could have four shutouts in a row. You can’t give away an inch at this point.”
Since the NHL went into a conference playoff alignment in 1993-94, a No. 8 has knocked out a No. 1 nine times. Four of those times, it was against a President’s Trophy recipient.
Still, in each case, it took at least six games to pull off that puckish rabbit out of the hat trick.
Odds are pretty good the Kings will figure out a way to finish off the Canucks, right? No one ever gives up a 3-0 lead (unless you’re the 2010 Bruins, 1975 Penguins or 1942 Red Wings).
And then, what if the Kings actually . . .
“Shocking, that’s what I’d call it,” said Kings’ longtime broadcaster Nick Nickson, on how he’d describe it on the radio Wednesday night if the sweep happens. “It would put it intothe top five of Kings’ all-time playoff series.”
“Maybe top three,” added Nichols.
Nickson has already witnessed – and Nichols played in – that ridiculous 1982 opening series when the Kings (24-41-15) had the worst record of all the playoff teams and had to go up against Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr and the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings were 48 points worse than that 48-win team.
A miracle here, and another there, and the Kings had done the impossible, winning the five-game series, 3-2. But then they lost to Vancouver in five games the next round.
In 2001, the Kings (38-28-13) opened as seventh seeds against the mighty Detroit Red Wings (49-20-9), trailed two games to one, and were down 3-0 in the third period of Game 4. An epic comeback win in overtime ensued. Then, “Red Killer” Adam Deadmarsh finished it off with a series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6. But then the Kings lost to Colorado, the eventual Cup champions, in seven games in the next round.
This 8-vs.-1 series only looks lopsided on paper. With one more victory in the regular season, the Kings would have won the Pacific Division and been a No. 3 seed in the West. The teams split their four regular-season meetings.
It’s just that the Canucks, who had 11 more wins than the Kings, registered eight victories in their last nine games – including 1-0 over the Kings on March 26 thanks to Luongo, even though the Kings outshot the Canucks 38-25.
The Kings lost their last two, skidded out of first in the Pacific and the No. 8 slot was there to catch them.
But then, there’s been a Sedin missing from the Vancouver side who may reappear tonight and tip the scales back the other way.
Barry Melrose, who coached the Kings to their own Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1993, was asked how he’d describe the way first three games of the Kings-Canucks scrum has played out.
“I picked L.A. to win this series,” the ESPN NHL studio analyst said from Bristol, Conn. “They’re a very underrated team. If you’ve followed L.A., you realize they should have been higher in the standings.
“I think the Kings are using Boston’s recipe (from the 2011 Stanley Cup finals) and they’re being physical and they’re making life miserable on their star players. They’ve found Vancouver’s holes. And they woke up at the right time.”
Melrose admits this series is far “under the radar” with NHL fans right now, more immersed in how the Eastern Conference races are being slugged out in Philadelphia, Boston and New York.
Still, when Anze Kopitar drops the gloves, as he did in the Game 3 win, something important must be going on.
When Kobe Bryant, David Beckham and Will Ferrell are in the same building, and it has nothing to do with a Lakers game, attention must be paid beyond the NHL Network.
Kings fans who aren’t even sure where to find the NBC Sports Network on their cable menus tonight have tried to grow spring-time beards for the last couple of seasons, but end up keeping their razors nearby.
This time, it could be different. Considering what happened after the ’82 and ’01 first-round wins, it better be different.
“If they win this, and lose in the next round, it doesn’t mean anything,” said Melrose. “Only if they win a couple more series can they look back on this to see if it was awesome or not. Winning one series doesn’t mean much, even if you’re a No. 8 (seed). Not from this team.”
Keep your hernia belts nearby. This could be a bumpy ride.
DID YOU KNOW …
If the Kings eliminate Vancouver, it will mark the 10th time a No. 8 seed has eliminated a No. 1 seed since the NHL went to a conference playoff alignment in 1993-94. These are the previous nine instances with teams and series result:
2010: Montreal over Washington, 4-3*
2009: Anaheim over San Jose, 4-2*
2006: Edmonton over Detroit, 4-2*
2002: Montreal over Boston, 4-2
2000: San Jose over St. Louis, 4-3*
1999: Pittsburgh over New Jersey, 4-3
1998: Ottawa over New Jersey, 4-2
1995: N.Y. Rangers over Quebec, 4-2
1994: San Jose over Detroit, 4-3
* Presidents Trophy winner
Note: A No. 8 seed has never swept a No. 1 seed. In the NBA, a No. 8 has defeated a No. 1 seed four times, the last in 2007 when Golden State upset Dallas, 4-2. Never has the NBA had No. 8 sweep a No. 1.