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Back at practice, Kings again have eyes on prize

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP)

Jonathan Quick was back in lockdown mode: preparing for Game 5 of the finals as though it were Game 1, and not the Los Angeles Kings' second chance to claim the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

As he did on media day in advance of the series opener against the New Jersey Devils, the Kings' stellar goalie faced reporters on Friday with a baseball cap yanked down to just above his eyes, with the black hood of a sweatshirt pulled over the top.

Quick's answers were to the point and spoken quietly. Everything about his demeanor screamed focus.

Los Angeles leads the series 3-1, following a 3-1 loss at home to the Devils on Wednesday that forced the series back to New Jersey. Game 5 is on Saturday night.

Even though the Kings are 2-0 in Game 5s in these playoffs, ending series both times, and a perfect 10-0 on the road, Quick took the tact of viewing the slate as clean.

''It's 0-0,'' he said. ''It doesn't matter if you're coming off a win or coming off a loss. Obviously, it's disappointing anytime you lose, no matter what the situation is. As of today it's 0-0. You're trying to win Game 1.''

Oddly - or not so much - the Devils are taking a similar approach, and their reasoning is quite simple. As it was on Wednesday, New Jersey's season is on the line. If the Devils don't win Saturday, they are finished. When every game means the difference between staying alive or going home, there is no point in looking past the task at hand.

The Kings don't want to let the Devils hang around and gain momentum and belief that they can erase a once 0-3 deficit and win the Stanley Cup for a fourth time. Each game that Los Angeles fails to capture the Stanley Cup makes its chances more tenuous, too.

Los Angeles took 3-0 leads in every series before the finals, eliminating Vancouver and Phoenix in five games to bookend a sweep of St. Louis in the second round. The Kings are 15-3 in the playoffs, with each loss coming at home in Game 4. The previous two defeats were followed by a series clincher in Game 5 away from home.

''Sure there is momentum, but I think we've done a good job of handling it, taking crowds out of games, and really playing steady road games,'' forward Justin Williams said. ''When the puck drops, no one thinks about Game 4. It's Game 5.

''Guys are at this level for a reason, and there is a lot of pride in everyone's dressing room. We know the Devils have a lot of it. They are not going to give (the Cup) to us. They are a hardworking team who is going to make you battle for everything. That's when your pride comes out, when your backs are against the wall and it's do or die. It was do or die for them, and they played great.''

Which takes us back to Quick.

Behind the solid play of their talented goalie, the Kings hadn't trailed for a second in any of their first three wins over the Devils. They eked out a pair of 2-1 overtime victories in Games 1 and 2 in New Jersey, and players and coaches on both sides readily admitted that those decisions easily could have gone the other way.

Back at home, Los Angeles took a convincing 4-0 victory in Game 3 before finally having a hiccup while the Stanley Cup was being shined behind the scenes.

''I don't think our team is going to struggle with confidence,'' Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. ''We're not concerned with their confidence, and they're not really concerned the other way, right? I don't think that's really an issue. It's the finals, and that's why they're here. Really the series could be 2-2 or 1-3.

''You look at the first two games, six periods of 2-1 hockey. The other night is 1-1 with just a few minutes left. There's not enough of a gap. You look at the third game, the shutout game, there's no score. Second period, you score the two.

''There's not enough of a difference in the series.''

The Kings were trying to get their emotions - both the disappointment of Wednesday and the excitement of Saturday - back in check on Friday, the second day of a two-day break in the series.

''Today is different because we got in here last night, tried to get our feet under us today, and go from there again,'' Sutter said after running practice. ''We haven't changed. I haven't seen a big change in our team emotionally for almost two months now. I think we've been able to handle different situations. I think they've learned, because of the breaks we had before series two and before series three. They had to learn to get their space, get back to being focused and reloaded.

''They've done a good job of that.''

While they are enjoying a familiar 3-1 lead, the Kings are still not taking anything for granted. They know they are trying to beat a veteran-laden team that has lots of experience, and lots of experience in winning. Despite three losses in the series, 40-year-old Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has been sharp.

His guile and familiarity to the championship stage give him even more to work with than just his Hall of Fame talent, even at an advanced age.

''This is by far the best team we've played,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ''It's the same with closing out a series. We had that first opportunity (to win) ... were pretty excited about it. Not to say that we're any less excited, but you're maybe a little more even-keeled about Game 5.

''I think there was a letdown after not sealing the deal in Game 4 with our home crowd. Everyone wakes up the next morning and understands the situation we're in, not only the opportunity but the responsibility to be better in Game 5.''

Tagged: Kings, Devils, Jonathan Quick

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