NEW YORK — A single victory stands between the Los Angeles Kings and the Stanley Cup.
The unlikeliest of postseason runs continued Monday with yet another twist as the Kings led throughout an entire game, stunning the Rangers in a 3-0 shutout win at Madison Square Garden.
Coincidentally, 3-0 also happens to be the series lead the Kings have in the Stanley Cup Final. It’s the first time L.A. has gone up 3-0 in the postseason this year and the first time since the 2012 playoffs.
It’s looking a lot like the same road map they followed in the Final two years ago: Two overtime wins and a shutout. But don’t let the team fool you – Wednesday’s game is just another game in the minds of the Kings.
"We’re not going to think about that," said center Anze Kopitar. "We’re going to go about our own business."
It was prototypical Kings hockey at its finest.
Gritty defense, key shot-blocking, big hits and a few timely goals. It might have lacked some fireworks but that’s the Kings’ game.
"It’s pretty boring, nothing flashy, but we’ll take it," Kopitar said. "We realize that this kind of hockey got us here, and it’s going to take us from here on out. We just got to make sure we keep playing like that."
Goaltender Jonathan Quick was the star for the first time all postseason. The 2012 Conn Smythe Award winner returned to his old form after a tough run in this year’s edition of the playoffs. The Kings were out-shot 32-15 and Quick barely even flinched.
"I think that’s a result of Quickie getting dialed in," said Kings’ captain Dustin Brown. "He’s been making key saves at key times and tonight he was the reason we won the game, quite honestly."
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After falling behind 2-0 in the first two games of the series, the Kings shocked the Rangers and silenced the packed Garden when Jeff Carter scored with less than a second left in the first period.
A sharp wrister high over goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and New York was never the same.
"I was reacting low and it went high and it’s just one of those plays where with a little luck there that puck ends up in the netting or in the glass," Lundqvist said. "But unfortunately with half a second left it ended up in our net. It was a tough play."
"That was a big goal: Their team almost went into the room thinking it was going to be 0-0, next thing you know, it was 1-0 us," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. "That’s definitely a downer for them. They’re thinking, ‘Ok, we’re alright right now.’ And then the goal goes in and it’s, ‘Uh oh, maybe this game isn’t going to turn out the way we want.’"
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was succinct and to the point when asked what went wrong. Taking a page from of his oppositions’ book, Vigneault sounded more like Darryl Sutter when he simply said, "Couldn’t score."
It was the first complete, 60-minute effort by the Kings in the series. Despite being out-shot, they out-played the Blueshirts in all facets. Special teams was an especially integral aspect as the minutes began to mount in the second period. But L.A. killed off all six penalties and Jake Muzzin’s game-winner was scored on the power play.
"PK was a big reason why we won," Doughty said. "Guys were laying out, doing everything we possibly could to not allow them to score. Guys were blocking shots, were making good plays to get the puck all the way down the ice and Quickie made some big saves."
Mike Richards also scored, which was his first since the Freeway Faceoff Series, and Justin Williams earned a point in his fifth-straight game. Williams has scored points in 15 of 24 playoff games and is quickly shedding the "Mr. Game 7" nickname as he continues his exceptional production in each game.
One more game. It seems so close, yet unbelievably far away. The Kings were in this exact same position two years ago with the team just across the river in New Jersey. The Devils won Games 4 and 5. But a seed of doubt was never planted two years ago. At no point in 2014 – not down 3-0 to San Jose, 2-0 to Anaheim or in Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks – was there ever any doubt.
"It’s a grind," Brown said. "But going into this postseason and the way this team is built and the way we’ve played over the past few postseasons, we’re never the best team in the regular season, but we found ways to play playoff hockey at the right time."