LOS ANGELES — The men in white gloves who tend to the Stanley Cup keep the most storied trophy in North American sports at an undisclosed location before bringing it into the building minutes before a team attempts to clinch.
It should have been here during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.
The Los Angeles Kings effectively won their first championship in franchise history with a dominating 4-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Sure, it’s a 3-0 lead in a series were you need four to seize the Cup, but the rest of the series — whether it ends at Game 4 at Staples Center on Wednesday or later — is a formality.
Just don’t expect anybody wearing black and purple — especially the captain — to cop to it.
“Once you get on the ice, you’re not thinking this is a possible Stanley Cup-clinching game,” Kings forward Dustin Brown said. “You are thinking about what you need to do to win. We put ourselves in a good position, although later in (Game 4), it’ll probably come to the forefront.”
It’s not just the fact the Kings are up 3-0 in a best-of-7 series, something the Kings have done now for all four rounds of the playoffs — a feat no other team has accomplished until now. It was more Monday about how Los Angeles got there.
This wasn’t a 2-1 overtime win, which is how the Kings won by in the first two games in New Jersey. The Kings controlled all but a few fleeting moments of the 60-minute game, showcasing their now-trademark penalty kill (the six kills in Game 3 included a one-minute 5-on-3) and the acrobatic goaltending by Jonathan Quick (22 saves), who earned his third shutout of the playoffs.
There was a gritty goal that Alec Martinez shoved through the pads of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur early in the second period, making the young defenseman the 17th Kings player to net a goal in the playoffs. The other second-period tally was arguably the Kings’ prettiest of the postseason as they used a tic-tac-toe passing to set up Anze Kopitar’s eighth goal of the playoffs.
Even the Kings’ power play — which, stat-wise had been more futile than the Devils’ meager efforts — got involved. Jeff Carter and Justin Williams scored on Los Angeles’ only trips on the man-advantage (both in the third period), goals that ended an 0-for-7 skid in the finals and righted a power play that entered 6 for 77 in the playoffs.
“I think when you look at our performances, there’s always a spot where you can get better,” Williams said. “Whether it be a power play, which was better tonight, penalty kill, certain aspects of the game you can always get better. I don’t think we’re ever going to sit up here and say we played a flawless game. It’s impossible.”
That’s a scary prospect for the Devils, who are facing a deficit that only one team — the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs — has come back from to hoist the Cup in 25 total opportunities.
“We have great leaders, great guys,” Devils forward David Clarkson said. “The reason we are here is because we all believe in one another. It’s been a fun ride and we are going to try to make sure it’s not over next game. We are not giving up. We are not done here. We are going to give it everything we have next game.”
The problem, the Devils all but surely did in the first three games and they can’t even point to any moment during that stretch where they held even a one-goal lead.
If there’s one edge the Devils can count on — maybe the only one at this point — is nerves. That Cup will be at Staples Center, something only a half-dozen Kings players have experienced.
“If it changes anything for us, I hope it makes us get more excited and bear down on responsibilities a little more,” said Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, who has played in two finals previously, winning it all with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. “If you start thinking about it too much, you lose focus on what’s in front of you. It can turn pretty fast. … You haven’t earned anything until you win the fourth.”