The Los Angeles Kings know they are heading home after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. They don’t want to bring the New York Rangers along for the ride.
One day before their first chance at their second Stanley Cup title in three years, the Kings harkened back to a pair of series – one this year when they rallied from a 3-0 hole to eliminate San Jose in the first round, and the 2012 finals when New Jersey won two straight to force Game 6.
Los Angeles took a 3-0 lead over the Rangers with a pair of overtime wins at home and then a 3-0 victory at Madison Square Garden on Monday behind Jonathan Quick’s 32-save performance.
”It wasn’t easy for us to come back from 3-0 in the first series,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. ”We know how it can happen. All it takes is one game, one momentum shift. The team can run with it, the other team can be down in the dumps.
”That’s why this next game is so important. We can’t let them back into the series.”
Game 4 is Wednesday night in New York. Though Los Angeles has four chances to reclaim the Cup, notching the first final sweep since 1998 is just how the Kings hope to do it.
”Be as desperate as before Game 3,” forward Jarret Stoll said of the Kings’ mindset. ”We knew we needed to be a desperate team. We want to have a killer instinct and play the right way, play determined.”
The Kings became the fourth NHL team to win a series after trailing 3-0. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off the feat in the final.
”They’ve done it, and we know we can do it,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. ”It’s not like we’ve been outplayed here. They’ve been good, but I think we’ve been playing pretty good, as well. It comes down to a couple plays here and there. That’s been the difference.
”It starts with your belief and it starts with how you approach this game and the games after that. They know it’s possible and we know it’s possible.”
The Rangers got into this predicament with a significant amount of misfortune. They were ahead 2-0 in each of the first two contests, and they failed to finish the deal in Game 2 when they held three two-goal leads.
In Game 3, two of the Kings’ goals bounded into the net off Rangers players. The third was scored after New York made a good defensive play, only to have the puck bounce right back to Mike Richards for a goal.
The Rangers put on a brave face Tuesday as they talked about getting back into this series, but their disappointment couldn’t be concealed.
”I didn’t expect my players to be cheery and upbeat,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. ”We’re in the Stanley Cup finals and we’re down 3-0. You don’t get a lot of these opportunities. Excuse us if we’re not real cheery. But tomorrow I can tell you we’re going to show up.”
Here are five things to watch for in Game 4:
CONN SMYTHE CONTENDERS: As the Kings close in on the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy playoff MVP conversation is heating up. Doughty has emerged as a leading candidate. He anchors the blue line while providing plenty of offense. He scored a highlight-reel goal in Game 1 of the final, and has notched five goals and 12 assists in the playoffs. Doughty logged 41 minutes, 41 seconds of ice time in the Kings’ 5-4, double-overtime victory in Game 2.
Teammate Justin Williams is a dark horse contender. He has scored six goals, including the overtime winner in Game 1, and added 16 assists in 24 postseason games. Williams is seeking his third Stanley Cup title, having won with Los Angeles and Carolina in 2006.
”That’s an award that a lot of NHLers aspire to have,” Williams said of the Conn Smythe. ”At the same time, when you’re presented with it, I think a lot of guys just want to put it aside and look to the big jug.”
SEEKING A SWEEP: While there hasn’t been a sweep in the final in 16 years, it was quite common before this drought. The last team to capture the Cup in a 4-0 romp was the Detroit Red Wings, who vanquished the Washington Capitals for their second consecutive championship and finished a run of four sweeps in a row. Detroit eliminated Philadelphia in four straight in 1997, the Colorado Avalanche took out the Florida Panthers in 1996, and New Jersey started the spurt one year earlier against Detroit.
”Being up 3-0, we’re a confident group,” Kings forward Jeff Carter said. ”It’s about going out, playing our game, executing our game plan, hopefully get the job done.”
ROSTER OPTIONS: Los Angeles defenseman Robyn Regehr is still looking to make his first appearance in the final. He has missed 16 games since May 3, when he injured his knee in the second-round opener at Anaheim. He is healthy enough to play, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter seems reluctant to shake up a roster that has built a 3-0 final lead.
The Rangers will have Daniel Carcillo available following the rugged forward’s six-game suspension. Carcillo was suspended after he appeared to twice elbow linesman Scott Driscoll, who was trying to keep Carcillo away from a fight, during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. His original ban of 10 games was reduced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
SIMILAR SITUATION: The Kings’ run to their first championship is eerily similar to their series with the Rangers. Los Angeles beat New Jersey in overtime in each of the first two finals games in 2012 and then posted a shutout in Game 3. The Devils won the next two before falling 6-1 in Game 6.
HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE? The Kings won the first two games of the final at home, but both they and the Rangers have found plenty of success on the road. Los Angeles improved to 8-5 with its Game 3 win at New York. The Rangers are 6-6 away from Madison Square Garden after winning a franchise record 25 road games during the regular season.