After being outscored 17-8 in the first three games of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings, just two years removed from collecting the 16 wins required to hoist the trophy, appeared to be nothing more than a first-round read-through.
But after storming back from a 3-0 series deficit to provide the latest plot twist in the San Jose Sharks' book of post-season heartbreak, the Kings have once again established themselves as formidable championship contenders.
Here is why they are worth watching:
Jonathan Quick's resurgence
By and large, the list could begin and end right here. Jonathan Quick has been nothing short of sensational since the Kings were pushed to the brink ahead of Game 4 against the Sharks. While his 1.40 GAA and .959 sv.% over the last five games are telling enough, his statistics don't accurately illustrate his brilliance. He has provided timely, acrobatic, heart-stopping saves that have instilled unwavering confidence in the skaters playing in front of him.
Anze Kopitar's consistency
Through eight playoff games, Anze Kopitar was the Kings' only consistent player. With at least a point in each game, the Slovenian superstar forward leads the NHL playoffs with 13 points, and has featured a plus-8 rating since Game 3 of the opening round.
What makes Kopitar special, however, is that his offense is bred through disciplined defensive responsibility. He has 22 hits in eight games, has won over 50% of his faceoffs, and has contributed six blocked shots.
"Taking it one game a time" is the most overused cliché in hockey's rather robust encyclopedia of go-to rebuttals, but it certainly carries merit. Always level-headed, the Kings never wavered from the task at hand despite finding themselves down 3-0.
There were no media outbursts or knee-jerk coaching reactions to poor goaltending; they exuded nothing but supreme confidence in the process, a mantra that starts at the top with head coach Darryl Sutter.
A certain trade deadline acquisition
After he was acquired at the trade deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Marian Gaborik didn't exactly light the world on fire under Sutter's disciplined scheme. But after an underwhelming start, he has found unquestionable comfort on the Kings' top line.
After scoring three goals in his first 17 games in silver and black, Gaborik now shares the playoff lead in scoring with five, including both the game-tying goal and overtime winner against Anaheim in Game 1.
Balance up front
While Gaborik's hiring as a loaded gun gave the top line a boost, internal recycling is another reason behind Los Angeles' unrivaled depth. Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli emerged on the flanks of Jeff Carter to take pressure off the first line, and allowed a talented grouping of checking forwards to focus on their job of shutting down the opposition's top units.
Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Kelvin Kuo