NEW YORK – This was nothing new to the L.A. Kings.
Time and time again in these playoffs, they've stared adversity dead in the eye and come out on top. So when Justin Williams, holder of two Cups himself, looked around the dressing room at his teammates after 40 minutes of Game 2 – his team trailing by two goals for the fourth time in three games – he saw not doubt or fear of the Rangers snatching momentum of the 2014 Final, but belief - cold, hard belief.
“We're not a team that wilts under the pressure,” said Williams, owner of 23 points in the playoffs. “We're a team that goes out and wants to make a difference and gets it. I feel that's a big reason why we've made it so far.”
Three grueling series this spring, all stretched to the max opposite the very best the West had to offer, each dotted with varying threats to a second Cup in three years. But at every point along the way these Kings have found a little something extra – another gear, another goal, another save – unwavering in their ability to overcome a challenge, however tall or insurmountable it may seem.
“Every series, every game, every year you play in the league you go through experiences that ultimately will help you in certain situations and I feel together as a team we've been through almost all them you could imagine and we've pulled through,” said Williams, who boasts 949 career NHL games, including 112 in the postseason. “So when we're down do we feel comfortable? No, we don't feel comfortable, but we feel like we're able to come back.
“Belief is a very underrated attribute and we have that going on within our team right now.”
It was another 2-0 pit at Staples Center on Saturday evening – the third such hole in as many games – just another obstacle for the Western Conference champs. But in familiar fashion (they did it against the Sharks, Ducks and Hawks) the silver and black forced their way back into the fold, ultimately dashing the Rangers hopes yet again in (double) overtime. Remarkably, the Kings have yet to lead at any point in regulation in the Final and still boast a commanding 2-0 series lead.
“We find ourselves in the same situation regurgitating the same mumbo jumbo every time, but we're in a results oriented league and the results are we're up 2-0,” said Williams. “I don't care how we got here.”
Another Cup, thus, appears close at hand for the 32-year-old and an always plucky bunch from southern California. Forty-eight teams have taken a 2-0 series lead in the Final since 1939 with all but five going on to capture the game's top prize, including L.A. in 2012. But for whatever history might say the Kings know full well that there's plenty of game left, their own checkered track record in these playoffs the best proof of that. It was L.A. on the mat and apparently down for the count in round one against the Sharks – they rallied with four straight wins – and then seemingly in control against the Ducks in round two – they were up 2-0 in the series before losing three straight – before another dose of Game 7 magic was required.
“Obviously momentum's a huge part of playoff hockey and once a team has it it's important to try to switch the tide in your favour as quick as possible,” said Dwight King from the team's hotel, sitting directly across from Central Park, his controversial third period goal timely in the 5-4 victory.
“Teams don't make it this far out of luck,” Williams added. “Do we feel we've broken them? No, absolutely not. We should know that more than anybody; that it's tough to put a team down. Especially when you're playing for the Stanley Cup it's going to be hard to put a team down, but we need to try to step a little bit more on the throat tomorrow.”
Finding their way to the borough of Manhattan on Sunday afternoon (after an early cross-country flight), the city buzzing with a flurry excitement at the Rangers first appearance in the Final in 20 years, the Kings exuded a quiet, knowing confidence, mindful of the improved start they'll need at MSG on Monday night and yet self-assured in their ability to handle whatever challenges Game 3 might throw their way.
Williams knew what he saw of his teammates in that dressing room just a day earlier – “I saw a prepared team that knew what they had to do” – and he knows as well as anyone that more, much more will be needed in the days ahead.