For Kings (and Lakers, Clippers), home is where the playoff action is


For those who feel the Kings-Oilers playoff series is a lot of deja vu all over again, Quinton Byfield says you’ve got it all wrong.

HTML tutorial

For the third year in a row the two teams split the first two games of their first-round NHL playoff series, with the Kings evening things Wednesday on Anze Kopitar’s goal 2:07 into overtime of Game 2. So for the third year in a row, the teams will reconvene in Los Angeles on Friday tied at a game apiece.

The last two times that happened, Edmonton went on to win the series. But here’s where the observant Byfield has spotted a difference.

“The last two years we won the first game,” said Byfield, who got an assist on Kopitar’s game-winning goal. “So hopefully it’s a little different. The success at home throughout the regular season, we’re going to look to carry that over to the playoffs.”

HTML tutorial

It’s that second part, the Kings’ success at home in the second half of the regular season, that has suddenly flipped the momentum in the series. Following the All-Star break, the Kings were a league-best 14-3-1 at home under interim coach Jim Hiller, winning nine of their final 10 games.

And with three of the next five games at Arena, it’s suddenly the Kings’ series to lose. Especially after Wednesday’s gritty win, one that erased the hangover of a Game 1 loss in which the Kings never led and their deadly penalty kill was scorched for three goals.

In Game 2, the Kings killed two of three penalties and never trailed, although they gave up a two-goal first-period lead and a one-goal third-period advantage. Adrian Kempe had two goals and Kopitar, playing in his 94th playoff game to tie Luc Robitaille‘s franchise record, had two assists in addition to his game-winner.

HTML tutorial

“We’ve got a lot of veteran players, a lot of guys who’ve done a lot of winning,” Hiller said. “You need that to have that kind of poise. Just focus, refocus, get out there and go again, because it is emotional.

“The players did a really good job of just calming themselves and going about their business. And I think the veteran leadership guys really make a difference in that situation.”

But the Kings may be playing for more than just a chance at extending their season when they step on home ice for the first time in the postseason Friday. They may be staring down a shot at history as well — history Lee Zeidman, president of the building the Kings play in, has been chasing for decades.

HTML tutorial

The Kings share Arena with two NBA teams, the Lakers and Clippers, and all three are in the first round of their respective playoff tournaments at the same time for just the fourth season. And while the arena has played host to seven NBA Finals and two Stanley Cup Finals, it has never had both championship series in the same year.

“I’ve always loved to have done that because that’s pretty much everything you can do in my business,” said Zeidman, who became the first full-time employee of what was then called Staples Center when he was hired away from the Forum in 1998. “I’m hoping that they get out of the first round, all three of them, and we can continue this magical run where we could get, possibly, all three teams to those conference finals.

“Obviously we’re a long ways away from that.”

It’s been 21 years since the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., followed Madison Square Garden, the Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium and the Spectrum and became the last venue to stage both the basketball and hockey championship series in the same season.

That was so long ago neither the arena nor the airline it was named after are still in business.

The Crypt is one of 10 venues that have both NBA and NHL tenants, but it’s the only one with three teams. And for the second year in a row all three are in the playoffs at the same time.

Beginning with last Sunday’s NBA playoff opener between the Clippers and Dallas Mavericks and continuing through Game 4 of the Kings-Oilers series this Sunday, Zeidman will oversee six postseason games involving six teams in two sports in just eight days. Including the 1,700 arena employees who staff each event, nearly 123,000 people will pass through the doors of the Crypt in that span.

That’s more people than live in any single city in Montana, Delaware, Vermont, Maine, Wyoming or New Hampshire.

Zeidman said the building was specifically designed to handle the wear and tear of multiple high-profile events staged one on top of the other. In 2012, when the Lakers and Clippers both made the Western Conference semifinals and the Kings won their first Stanley Cup, there were 20 playoff games held in the arena — sometimes two on the same day.

The possibility of that happening again requires some tradeoffs. Although the building has staged as many as 250 events in a year — about a fifth of them non-sporting events — Zeidman says he can’t book anything between April 15 and June 15 because the NBA and NHL playoff schedules are so unpredictable.

The odds that Zeidman will stage either an NBA or NHL final, much less both, at the Crypt this June are fading since none of the building’s three teams led their first-round series after two games. Those odds will drop even further next season when Steve Ballmer moves his Clippers out of the Crypt and into the Intuit Dome in Inglewood.

That’s a trend Zeidman expects will spread since being the only team in a building increases the revenue from naming rights, corporate suites, club suites and other things that must be shared when there are multiple tenants.

“There’s a certain cachet of being a building that is home to two NBA teams, an NHL team and a WNBA team,” he said. “I don’t believe it’ll be replicated moving forward.”

Speaking of moving forward, that’s what Kopitar and the Kings did Wednesday. Whether that win will change the direction of the series and bring Zeidman’s dream a little closer to reality remains to be seen. But goaltender Cam Talbot, like Byfield, believes the momentum has changed.

“We’ve got a ton of confidence,” he said. “You win a big game in a building like this, you take home ice back. Now we have to go back home and deny them the opportunity to do it to us.”

Source link

Leave a comment