NEW YORK — A game without overtime might not feel like a Los Angeles Kings postseason game, but that’s exactly what happened in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers on Monday.
L.A. has a 3-0 advantage and anyone familiar with the Kings is well-versed in the odds, stats and history of 3-0 series comebacks (just to refresh: The Kings became the fourth NHL club and fifth North American professional sports franchise to win a series after trailing 3-0 in the Western Conference quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks this season).
But before any Angelenos start camping out in downtown L.A. to get a good parade seat, consider what happened the last time the Kings were up 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final: The New Jersey Devils won the next two games.
"New Jersey (was) not wanting to go away quietly," said Kings winger Justin Williams. "They certainly didn’t. Made us earn it. We expect the Rangers are going to do the exact same."
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The Kings turned in a complete, 60-minute effort for the first time in the series in Game 3. They took the crowd out of the game and controlled it throughout, dictating the type of game the Kings wanted to play.
"I know championship teams — and hopefully we can be one this year — have the same general attributes," Williams said. "They have goaltenders playing at the top of their game, four good lines who can score, they’re relatively healthy, they have a D-man who eats up a lot of minutes, is one of the best in the world — a lot of championship teams have that.
"I think we have all the ingredients right now. We aspire to be a good team for a long time."
It’s difficult to find something the Kings did wrong on the ice in Game 3. Yes, they were out-shot by a 32-15 margin, but they blocked shots and limited the Rangers’ transition game, helping their cause significantly.
The most difficult part comes off the ice. One game away from their second Stanley Cup in three years, it’s surprisingly easy to lose focus. Look no further than Game 4 of 2012 Cup Final for evidence.
"There were some issues that maybe got us sidetracked a little bit (in 2012)," Williams said. "The thought of winning a Cup, being one game away, family issues, ticket issues, all that stuff. That can maybe sidetrack you from the end result."
Playoff experience and the management of those particular issues is key right now. The wrong time for the Kings to lose their signature resilience would be during Wednesday’s Game 4.
"I think that was a lesson learned, not just for our players but for our whole organization," said head coach Darryl Sutter. "We were trying to keep our players as a little inner circle, which they still do. But the circle got a little bit of infringement."
The anniversary and the odds
It’s been 41 days since the Kings eliminated the Sharks in an epic Game 7 win in the Bay Area, and it’s been on the minds of many as the Rangers attempt to repeat the feat and beat the incredibly unlikely odds.
"We could see we’re not a team somebody says, ‘Go away,’ and we go away," Sutter said. "We’re a team that’s going to respond."
There hasn’t been a series, a game or even a shift that the Kings haven’t been able to respond to yet. The answers come from the experienced core that have been in similar positions before. And in the 2014 postseason, the only thing the Kings haven’t been through is a relatively easy and short series win.
"The other team is going to know they played you," Sutter said. "I saw that in Period 1 of Game 3. We knew we were winning the series, it just took a little bit longer."
"Our team, we’ve been down a lot this postseason, we’ve been up, been in some exciting games, some long games," said forward Jarret Stoll. "We just keep playing, trying to find a way to win, we’ve had some fortunate bounces. But it’s June 10th right now and you need luck, you need bounces, hard work, to still be playing right now."
People keep talking about San Jose. Tuesday afternoon after the Kings’ off-day practice Sutter was able to talk about something else: The 10-year anniversary of Sutter’s Stanley Cup loss behind the bench of the Calgary Flames.
It’s not something the tight-lipped head coach has wanted to talk about throughout the series, but finally, he opened up on the loss to Tampa Bay. And his answer was revealing, as the stodgy and stoic Sutter showed some rare emotion.
"I moved on in a hurry," he said. "It’s something that everybody wants to talk about. You go to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup, you get beat 2-1. The best and worst part of winning is till you’ve won it, you don’t really understand what that is. Then when you lose, you’re pretty close to understanding it.
"Anybody that’s never been in either one of those positions, they’ll never understand it, never. That’s why there’s teams that say they’re happy to make the playoffs because they don’t understand the big goal part of it."