The Kings became the 4th team in the Western Conference to lock up a playoff spot this season with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. The Kings currently sit 4th in the West, but over the next few games the whole layout of 4th through 8th can turn upside down.
A lot of pressure is taken off from the fact that the Kings have clinched. Now there are other things to be concerned with.
1. A high seed. Ideally the Kings would like to have the 4th seed. It would guarantee home-ice advantage for the first round which can be a big boost. It’s more games in your own bed, more games with your fans behind you, and more games where you have the last change. The tradeoff is that the pressure can be greater in front of your own crowd, but that is a tradeoff most teams will take.
Having the 4th seed will also keep the Kings from facing a) Vancouver, who despite having (sort of) split the season series with the Kings, are still the best team in the West this year, b) Detroit, who the Kings have had success against this season but are the most seasoned playoff team, and c) San Jose, who have given the Kings a hard time all season. It won’t be a cakewalk against any of the bottom seeds either, but I like those chances better than the aforementioned three.
2. Momentum. Going into the playoffs on a downswing is never a good idea. Teams want to keep their confidence high and want to feel like they’re storming into the post-season, not crawling. Having momentum going into the playoffs doesn’t guarantee anything either, but it’s better than playing out of sorts.
3. Rivalry. The Kings final two opponents of the regular season are the Ducks… and the Ducks. What better way to finish the season than playing a team you hate? Mentally, the Kings can spin any outcome against the ducks into favorable motivation. “We destroyed the Ducks in those two games, we’re feeling good!” “We split those two games, now we’re in that high competition mode!” “We lost both of those games, that’s motivation for us to get back!” Or maybe that’s just the optimist in me…
Speaking of rivalries, check out these regular season ending match ups; Chicago plays Detroit twice. Detroit could possibly eliminate their rivals and defending champs with two wins. Tall task with Zetterberg out for the last two games. Phoenix has two tussles with San Jose. The Kings and Ducks meet twice. On the easier side? Nashville takes on playoff also-rans St. Louis and Columbus, and Dallas has two meetings with Colorado. Those two teams could really change the complexion of Western Conference match ups.
Kings should tread carefully because… setting out to get a high seed now and not getting it could adversely affect their mojo. If the Kings mentally bank on landing that 4th seed but can’t do it, they might end up feeling defeated or that the task at hand is too difficult. Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting the Kings would just give up if they couldn’t land the 4th seed, but think about this; Philadelphia clinched last season on the last day and squeaked in at 7th place. The emotional high of just barely making the playoffs probably was a mental boost. “We just barely made it, so everything from here is gravy. If we can squeak out that win, we can do more.” Going into the playoffs with a clean mental slate creates a dangerous opponent.
The Kings should (and probably will) look at the last two games as individual games. It’s one of those sports cliches that people hate, “take it one game at a time.” However, there is a reason teams do it. It’s mentally manageable. Regardless of the outcome of these last two game, the Kings need to be in top mental form.
Interesting notes… If the playoffs started today, the Kings would be the only team in the West to have won the season series with their opponent. Chicago and Vancouver are tied 2-2, San Jose and Anaheim are tied 3-3, Phoenix and Detroit are tied 2-2, Los Angeles beat Nashville 3-1. Isn’t that a match up the Kings would like?
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney