Advocates of the Western Conference’s superiority were nodding knowingly on Monday as they watched the Los Angeles Kings move within one win of a second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
Sure, the Rangers had some glorious chances in a 3-0 loss in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden, but they didn’t finish them. Sure, New York has put up a fight in all three games of this series, but it hasn’t won yet. Sure, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick robbed New York on a few occasions, but didn’t Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist do that to the Kings in the first two games in Los Angeles and still come up short?
Let’s face facts here. Los Angeles is a better team than New York. Everybody who analyzed this series with his head instead of his heart saw it from the start. New York’s only hopes were 1) grabbing an early series lead against the emotionally spent Kings, or 2) Lundqvist. Neither has panned out despite the latter’s brilliant play in L.A.
And now New York is staring at the ignominious possibility of being the first team swept in the Cup Final since Washington fell to Detroit in 1998. It’s a sobering and sad conclusion to the Rangers’ remarkable run through the Eastern Conference playoffs, especially that rally from a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh.
"I’m going to take tonight to figure it out," New York coach Alain Vigneault told the media after the game.
There may be nothing left to figure. These things go in cycles, but there can be no denying the naked-eye truth now: The West is the best, and the real Cup Final concluded when L.A. beat Chicago in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.
When we remember this wondrous postseason, that should be the lasting image.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Quick is back L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick hasn’t had a particularly impressive postseason, but he sure was terrific on Monday in New York. His best moment may have come early when Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello found himself all alone at the left post with an open net staring at him. Zuccarello fumbled the attempt, but Quick dived with his stick extended to keep the puck out of the net and keep the game scoreless in the first period. Or maybe his best stop was that sprawling pad save he made on New York’s Derick Brassard in the second period to preserve a 2-0 lead. Take your pick.
New York’s anemic power plays: With the Kings already up 2-0, New York had a pair of power plays midway through the second period with a chance to get back in the game, but the Rangers generated very little offense and Mike Richards’ late goal in the period sealed it for L.A. New York is 1 for 14 on the power play in this series.
There have been 26 previous teams to fall behind 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, and only one — the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings — came back to win four straight and the Cup.
Los Angeles leads, 3-0.
1. Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles: 32 saves for his ninth career playoff shutout. Quick closed the door on the Rangers’ season.
2. Jeff Carter, C, Los Angeles: Carter scored with 0.7 second left in the first period to give L.A. its first lead of the series that didn’t come at the final horn. He also created traffic in front of Lundqvist on L.A.’s second goal and totaled four shots to state his case in a crowded house for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
3. Jake Muzzin, D, Los Angeles: Muzzin had a goal, four blocked shots and he played shutdown defense next to partner Drew Doughty.
Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles: He had an assist to pad his postseason-leading point total (26), and he impacted every area of the game (5-on-5, power play, penalty kill, faceoffs).
"We got thrown under the bus by everybody on Earth seven weeks ago." — L.A. coach Darryl Sutter, referring to the Kings’ 3-0, first-round series deficit to San Jose.
"He was obviously the best player on the ice tonight." — Vigneault on Quick.
"You try to stay positive right now, but it’s tough. It’s really tough." — Lundqvist on his team’s 3-0 series deficit.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi is one of the best in the business. Sure, that’s an easy knee-jerk statement when a team is on the cusp on winning the Cup, but look at the facts.
In 2009, he acquired wing Justin Williams at the trade deadline. In 2012, he acquired Carter at the trade deadline in the season the Kings went on to win their first Cup. This season, he acquired wing Marian Gaborik at the deadline. All three players are in the discussion for the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy, all three have added a jolt to what was a poor L.A. offense and none of the three broke the bank.
Add in a healthy farm system that has produced forwards Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and defensemen Muzzin and Slava Voynov (not to mention Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Quick) and you have, well, a perennial Cup contender.
We said it before, but the L.A.-Chicago rivalry should be a good one for years to come in the West. Right now, the Kings are setting the standard.
Game 4, Wednesday at New York, 8 p.m. ET
It’s a Conn Smythe quandary. Assuming the Kings don’t go the way of San Jose and blow a 3-0 series lead, whom do you select for playoff MVP? L.A. has five legitimate contenders.
Kopitar has those postseason-leading 26 points. Carter and Williams are tied for second at 24 points, and both have scored or assisted on huge goals in this postseason. Doughty has been the best at his position in this postseason — both ways —and Gaborik leads all NHL players with 13 playoff goals.