LA Kings 3 – 4 Detroit Redwings (penalty shoot-out)
Los Angeles, October 27th, 2008.
Sometimes champions have to abandon the remorseless precision that made them champions and win a messy, scrappy tussle with lesser opponents determined to take them down a notch. For that’s what it takes to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, and last night at the Staples Center the Detroit Redwings showed they are up to the task.
Credit to the LA Kings, they forced their illustrious opponents to come down to their level. This was more a street fight than a hockey game. The punches and counter-punches may as well have been dished out in the parking lot behind the stadium, such was the messy nature of the battle.
Yet for the vast majority of the game, the Kings were the better brawlers. Time and again they caught their more cultured opponents off-guard all the way up till the last minute when Valtteri Filppula threw one last desperate punch with ninety seconds remaining to haul the Redwings back into the contest at 3-3.
There was neither clever movement, nor finesse, nor sweet puck control to savour. But that was inevitable as the only way the Kings would overcome the Redwings was to strip them of their champion luster and make them fight for it. And fight they did.
In a seesawing contest, the Redwings went ahead 1-0 through Henrik Zetterberg, before falling behind 2-1 after Oscar Moller replied and Kyle Calder scored within two minutes of the start of the second period. Marian Hossa brought the game to 2-2 late in the second period as the struggle continued. When Alexander Frolov scored the Kings’ third at the start of the third period, the Kings looked as though they were finally overwhelming their opponents, Filppula begged to differ, tying the game up again in the final minute. All the goals were bundled in, all a mix of opportunism and quick wrists rather than sublime skill or vision.
But the Kings should take some positives from this display. Landing three blows against the Champions is no mean feat, especially when the first of these from Moller was the Kings’ first this season. They harried and hassled the Redwings, who simply could not find a way to assert their class on the Kings in open play, needing a power play to score their third goal.
So to the shoot-out we went, where scrapping and hassling count for little in the face of that remorseless precision of champions. Specifically, it was the precision of Chris Osgood that told on the Kings and enabled the Redwings to finally swat away their clumsier rivals.
Osgood took complete control of the shoot-out. As if somewhat bored with proceedings and the fact that all three goals he conceded had come from sloppy defensive mistakes, he decided to stamp some prize-fighter class on the bout by saving both the Kings’ penalties with consummate ease.
The Kings will come away knowing they can ruffle the feathers of their higher-flying rivals, and for that they should take heart. But for the rest of the league, the warning has been issued: the Champions will not relinquish their crown easily, and are prepared to scrap for it.