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Hockey Kings remain confident in moments of desperation

Kings right wing Justin Williams, centre, fights for the puck against New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan, left, on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Mary Altaffer/AP

Justin Williams has his name on the Stanley Cup three times and won the Conn Smythe Trophy last spring in leading the Los Angeles Kings past the New York Rangers.

With that in the past, the impending unrestricted free agent who earned the reluctant moniker of Mr. Game 7 is more concerned about the playoff games he and the Kings might not get to play next month.

"My focus is straight ahead, right on this team and not having that sticker next to your name as the Stanley Cup champs that didn't qualify for the playoffs the next season," Williams said.

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Despite winning the first two games of their road trip, the Kings woke up Wednesday out of a playoff position in the competitive Western Conference. Desperation seems to suit this team well, and players are confident they'll get the job done and get in.

"Everybody realizes that we play the best hockey when we're desperate and when we have a lot of emotions poured into games," centre Anze Kopitar said. "It's to that point in the season, standings-wise and points-wise, that we have to have better games."

The Kings beat the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers on back-to-back nights in rematches of the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup final. They visit the New York Islanders on Thursday before seeing the red-hot Minnesota Wild and 2013 Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks to finish out their trip.

Defenceman Drew Doughty said he and his teammates are treating the rest of the regular season like the playoffs, where the Kings have a .640 winning percentage dating to 2012. The difference now is they need to pick up points and worry about what other teams – namely the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets – are doing elsewhere.

"It's just different, for sure," Doughty said. "When [in the] playoffs, the intensity picks up, because if you lose, you're going home and no one wants to go home. So that's the way we've got to look at it: We're going home if we don't win all these games, and we've got to treat every single game that way, and if we do I think we'll win a lot."

The Kings seem the most comfortable in situations like this, when they need to win or go home. But this isn't an ideal hole to be in with nine games left.

"Trust me, we're not," Williams said. "I would much rather be at 100 points by now. It is what it is. We're here because we put ourselves here."

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Los Angeles needed a nine-game winning streak in February just to be in the playoff hunt. Goaltender and 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Jonathan Quick has started 29 of the past 30 games and been a stabilizing force.

When the Blackhawks needed to go on a run in 2011, the year after they won their first Cup in this stretch, Corey Crawford started 27 in a row. So Chicago coach Joel Quenneville understands why that's happening with Quick or the Minnesota Wild's Devan Dubnyk, who has started 32 in a row.

"That's the easiest decision you have to make," Quenneville said Wednesday in Philadelphia. "It's one of those where, 'Hey, he's got the net, we're going, we have to win every game.' That was kind of the mode we were in. I'm sure that's their mind-set as a coach. It's a no-brainer."

Quick nodded his head Monday night, as if it were a no-brainer that the Kings will make the playoffs. The quiet confidence extends to the rest of the locker room.

"There's an expectation, for sure, that we will do it," Doughty said. "It's not just going to happen. It's going to take every single guy in the room to elevate their game, elevate their level of play, and as a team that will just make us better."

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