Samson, Icarus and the L.A. Kings

How much does one loss cost? For the LA Kings, what has become nicknamed the "Flop on Figueroa," Tuesday's 6-5 overtime loss, is more than one game not won. It's got qualities of the epic failures portrayed in ancient literature, and it's going to stay in the collective psyche of fans of the perpetual also-ran Kings for a long time to come.

If you're interested in the hockey side of things, the question for the Kings still, four weeks after Anze Kopitar went down for the year, is what should be expected of the team without him. Ancillary to that is what it will mean for them not to take their series with San Jose.

One opinion holds that whatever the Kings accomplish without Kopitar is gravy, because the season ended the moment his ankle snapped. The other says that the team needs to go on despite the loss, and that given how they've played in the series with the Sharks thus far, they have every reason to believe that they can win without him.

That is, until the debacle of Tuesday night. And there's the rub. The team came back to within a whisker in game one, losing in overtime after a chance bounced off of Kyle Clifford's stick. In game two, the Kings walked away from the Sharks, 4-0. The same thing was happening Tuesday night until the collapse that has been talked about on every sports TV show and hockey broadcast.

So close. So close to going up 2-1 against a team that's known for softness in the playoffs but who were playing a better all-around game, a team that surely, this year, was ready to go a step or two farther than they had before. So close to knocking them off their perch.

And then the hubris set in. There's no other explanation for it.

The Kings decided they'd won the game on Tuesday night though just a period plus 44 seconds had been played. They eventually dropped the game in OT, 6-5.

It took no time for the Flop on Figueroa to be figured into Kings' history. The Miracle on Manchester and the Stunner at Staples had both gone their way. Third time was not the charm. Two out of three ain't bad, but not when you lose the third one.

The question now is how much this game matters. If the team ends up winning the series, not at all. If they lose, then there's no other way to see it: game three was a disaster which sets the Kings fans' psyche back a decade or more. Maybe, the hurt is as great as losing the Stanley Cup in 1993. OK, this is a first-round series, and there's a long way to go before the hockey starts to matter.

Think about last year's first round. Nashville lost after blowing a game late in the going to Chicago, right? You remember, right? If you're a Nashville fan you do. If you're a Chicago fan, tambien. But if you're a follower of any of the other teams that made the playoffs last year, it's unlikely that that loss is more than a faint memory. Why?

Because the first round doesn't matter. If you've been watching this game long enough, you might remember that this round used to be called the "Elimination Round," and it was best of five. It only existed to give a little false hope to the bottom dwellers, and get them off to the golf course as fast as possible.

So, in proper perspective, this game doesn't mean much. But in Kings' fans' minds, if they lose, it will be extremely damaging.

This team was built to play defense first. Their style is what Murray calls "puck management" based. That means keeping the other team to the outside. Getting hard back into the zone. Not sending two guys in deep in the other team's end, but letting one retrieve the puck while the other follows up for support. The result is that the team gave up the sixth fewest goals in the league, tied with Pittsburgh.

So why couldn't/didn't they do that with a four-goal lead Tuesday night? After the game, Murray said he had no idea. He had told the players, he said, what to do during every TV timeout. They knew, he maintained, and he didn't really have any way to explain why they hadn't complied.

But isn't that the way with heroes sometimes? Why did Icarus fly too close to the sun? Because he could. He was told not to by his dad, but hey--once he felt that breeze, it just didn't seem like a good idea to turn away from the giant glowing disk that promised so much but cost him his wings.

Why did Samson allow his hair to be cut? Again, he was told not to, by God himself. But you know, that Delilah, she had her charms. He ended up chained to a couple of pillars, blind.

Why do heroes do stupid things that end up undoing them? Because sometimes, the temptation is just too much. The result, however, is what we're after here. In the case of the two aforementioned heroes, it was death, but with a kind of nobility. Samson, at least, had the last laugh as he collapsed the building around him, taking his enemies with him.

But other heroes haven't left such a legacy. What did Oedipus get? A complex, but that only came thanks to Freud, and only a couple of thousand years later.

That, you'll recall, is the urge on the part of the boy child to kill his rival, who is the father that he sees getting in the way of the good thing he's got going with mom, and marry, well, mom.

Freud's idea that the complex is repressed as the child grows into self-recognition but still lurks somewhere in the psyche to haunt him in his later relationships (you true Freudians are welcome to write in with corrections on this pop version of the theory) might take us back to the Kings. The question--will the fans be haunted over time by this terrible mistake on the part of their hockey heroes?

Sitting in the press box Thursday night, it certainly seemed to me, as the lasers shone and the music blared to begin the game, that the fans at Staples Center had forgiven and forgotten the debacle of the other evening. They cheered, perhaps louder than they had two nights before when the bright hope of the playoffs was just beginning, at least as far as the home games were concerned.

Their team did not disappoint early on. They were outshot in period one by 13-9, but that advantage was negated by the outstanding goaltending of Jonathan Quick who, by the way, got perhaps the loudest accolades at the start of the game. He let in six goals the other night, a bad number by anyone's standards, but none were, as is sometimes said, "bad goals." On none could it be said that he was out of position. His team was just that horrible defensively in front of him that he had "no chance" (another cliché) to stop the puck.

Thursday, the second period saw the Sharks jump to a three-goal lead and the Kings almost erase it. It ended 3-2. Hope brewed in the crowd. Maybe Tuesday could be forgotten.

The third period undid that hope, with the Sharks going to 6-2 before the Kings got a goal back. That last, to make it 6-3, was merely symbolic, even as they enjoyed a two-man advantage due to San Jose taking a couple of penalties. The Kings just didn't have anything for the Sharks, and whatever hopes this city had to erase forty-plus years of hockey frustration went away as the clock ticked down.

By the time there were eight minutes left, many fans had decided they'd seen enough, heading for the exits. For all they know, that's the last they'll watch hockey live this year, unless they're planning to drive north for San Jose's next series, or southeast to see whether the Ducks can continue their winning ways versus Nashville. The Kings go to San Jose down 3-1 in their series. It would be more than a miracle if they came back to win it. It might even be surprising to see them back at Staples for a sixth game, which would happen Monday if necessary.

So the question remains: how important is, or was, the Flop on Figueroa? If things turn out well from here on, it's forgotten. Perhaps, to stay true to Freud, though, a better word might be "repressed." If things go downhill, as they appear to be doing, then that game will be remembered in the line of those two great triumphs mentioned earlier, and of the second game of the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, the McSorley stick game. (You can look that up pretty easily on google, too, if you don't remember.)

McSorley, by the way, is still around. He walked through the press entrance just after I did, and was on the TV pregame show. It's like any old ghost--they might seem like they go away for a while, but they're never really gone. Just quiet for a time.

So once again, as they have done so many times before, Kings fans head to their summer vacations having endured a season of promise and ultimately, frustration. Only this time, it wasn't just a hockey loss. It was a loss with overtones of the great prideful falls of myth. And that's going to sting for a long time. Maybe forever, because this time, except for some poor decisions in game two, things might have been different.

Brian Kennedy is the "PhD in the Press Box," an honest-to-goodness academic who spends his off hours writing about hockey and car racing.


More by Brian Kennedy:
The overlapping eras of LA Kings history
The power of firsthand narrative: Outsourcing the NHL finals
Samson, Icarus and the L.A. Kings
A cultural critic attends the NHL playoffs
Be kind to your hockey-loving colleagues this week
Previous Native Intelligence story: Obit Beat: Goodbye, Mr. Luxe

Next Native Intelligence story: Dance review: 'Monger' at UCLA Live *

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