NEW YORK -- This is a familiar position for the Los Angeles Kings, but don't confuse it with a comfortable position.
Like a habitually procrastinating honor student constantly pulling all-nighters to get an A, the Kings know they can win it all again despite currently being out of the playoffs if the season ended today. But it won’t be easy. It never is with this team.
"We definitely don't want to be in this kind of position," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "But it does seem like we do play good hockey when our backs are up against the wall. Again, we didn't want to be in this position, but we dug ourselves a hole and now we have to climb out of it."
Of course, the Kings aren't just looking to make the playoffs, they're looking to win a third Stanley Cup in four years, something that hasn't been done in 25 years.
"I look around our room and I see nothing but confidence," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "I see guys that are willing to go the extra mile and have been there when push comes to shove.
"We're here to defend our title."
And really, who are we to doubt them?
This is the same group that said it had the San Jose Sharks right where it wanted them after falling behind 3-0 in a first-round series last season. The Kings went on to become the fifth team in North American professional sports to win a series after losing the first three games.
This is the same group that last season became the first team to advance to the Stanley Cup finals by winning three straight Game 7s, all on the road.
It's the same group that just barely qualified for the playoffs as the eighth seed three years ago and steamrolled through the top three seeds -- winning the first three games in each series -- to became the first North American professional sports team to win a title as an eight seed.
The Kings have been through it all over the past three years. So it's no surprise that after beating the New York Rangers 4-2 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden to move to 2-0 on their crucial five-game trip, they were unmoved by being out of the playoffs at this point -- with nine games left in the regular season.
The Kings are tied with the Calgary Flames at 86 points for third in the Pacific and eighth in the conference, but the Flames have 36 non-shootout wins to 34 for the Kings. Both teams play each other April 9 in Calgary in the penultimate game of the regular season.
While the Kings are confident they will find a way to make it into the playoffs, they're also disappointed to be in this position of having to battle. Despite being the only team to win the Stanley Cup, twice no less, after finishing lower than the fifth seed, they could have been a top-four seed this season had they finished off close games. When they look back at their schedule, it is littered with points squandered in games they felt they dominated.
"There are a lot of things you can look at," Williams said. "Our overtime record, our shootout record, we've lost a few games where we've had the lead going into the third period. There are obviously a lot of things you can look at, but the main thing is we're here because we put ourselves in this position. We got our backs against the wall, and it's time to step up and give ourselves a chance to repeat."
The Kings have won only 12 of their 35 one-goal games this season and to Williams' point are 3-14 in overtimes and 2-7 in shootouts.
There are a number of reasons why the Kings aren't as good in close games as they have been in the past. Their defense isn't what it used to be after the loss of Willie Mitchell in the offseason to free agency and Slava Voynov in October after his arrest on domestic violence charges and pending court case. The Kings' trading last month for Andrej Sekera, who scored in Monday's 3-1 win over New Jersey, has certainly helped.
This also is a team that has played into June the last three years. The Kings are the first team since the Detroit Red Wings, who won back to back titles in 1997 and 1998, to win two Stanley Cups in three years. And that's also not taking into account the five current Kings players who played in the Olympics in 2014. But the Kings aren't necessarily an old team, with an average age of 27; they’ve just played more hockey than any current team over a three-year span.
"Stick together is what we do," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I wouldn't say we're a veteran team. I'd say we're an experienced team. We're not an older team or anything like that. You know what? When you're used to playing in big games and used to winning, you take that. There are losses, and there's a little bit of misconception that you're going to go 82-0 or you're going to go 50-32. But at the end of the day, everybody's goal is just to get in, and that's what we're trying to do."
While Jarret Stoll and Tanner Pearson are still on the outside looking in, the Kings welcomed back Mike Richards and Alec Martinez to the lineup Monday to begin their trip. And the fact that the team has responded with two victories over the Devils and the Rangers isn't a coincidence.
"It certainly feels like one of our family members is back," Williams said. "Mike's been an impact player for us for years. We don't expect him to come back and just be there; we expect him to make an impact on the result of games, and he will."
As much as the Kings draw on their past when it comes to their confidence in pressure situations, they also realize what they did last year or two years ago means nothing in regard to this year's playoff push.
"This is a 'what have you done for me lately?' game," Williams said. "The past is the past, and nobody cares about it. We're proud of what we did last year, but that was last year, and we have to prove ourselves all over again."