As fans rejoice, Kings stay focused on Game 4
LOS ANGELES — Though their fans are riding a wave of euphoria, the Los Angeles Kings didn't show any signs Tuesday of losing the acute focus that has guided them to their fourth consecutive 3-0 series lead — and one win from the Stanley Cup.
As they appeared at their El Segundo practice facility, the blinders were still attached, the mission still unfinished, Wednesday's potential Game 4 clincher against the New Jersey Devils still the only thing in their thoughts.
"Obviously, we're not going to start thinking about stuff that hasn't happened yet," goalie Jonathan Quick said on the eve of what could be the first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 45-year history.
Depite the Kings' remarkable 15-2 record in these playoffs, there has been — and remains — so much modesty that you half-expect someone to say, "It's the Stanley Cup. Ninety other teams have won it. We just have to be prepared for our preseason opener in September."
Contrast that with ocean of silver-and-black-clad Kings fans who descended on the Staples Center on Monday as the Kings recorded a 4-0 win in Game 3. There was unadulterated joy, chants of "We want the Cup!" and all manner of yelping and hollering.
"It was incredible," said Michael Gitig of Sherman Oaks, Calif., one of the record 18,764 fans attending the delirium.
"But it was also tempered with a kind of disbelief that we were actually 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. And when we were up 2-0, it was that same belief that ‘Is this really happening?'"
Zen and the Art of a Maintenance Day, Tuesday was not. The Kings may have utilized the Lakers' practice court for interviews, but coach Darryl Sutter is about as far from Phil Jackson's ilk as one can be, even if Sutter's native Alberta and Jackson's Montana share do a border.
The Kings' grounded approach can be traced to Sutter's workmanlike demeanor, and disinclination to talk in the Zen-like abstractions of Jackson.
In fact, about as off-point as Sutter got Tuesday was to relate the story of the day last December when he got a call on his Alberta farm from GM Dean Lombardi, asking him to replace Terry Murray with the Kings struggling.
Sutter revealed he had been shoveling manure earlier in the day — though 'manure' was not his word choice.
"I was probably warming up," he said of what he was doing at the time of the call. "It was cold."
Like his coach, Kings star Colin Fraser embodies that "work to be done" approach.
"That's the hardest one, right?" Fraser said of closing out a Stanley Cup Final series. "You talk about the fourth one, but the 16th one is really obviously the hardest."
Sutter's appreciation of the focus and intuition Fraser has brought to Los Angeles is occasionally revealed in conversations with reporters, as it was last week in New Jersey.
"I don't call them our fourth line," Sutter said on May 31. "I call it Colin Fraser and whoever is playing with him," he said.
By recording four hits and winning six of eight faceoffs in 8:17 of ice time Monday night, Fraser didn't give the impression of someone lost in the intangible aspects of the Kings' historic run.
"You just can't get too far ahead,'' he said. "You can't get wrapped up in the excitement. You've got to approach it like any other game. There's still a job to do. It's not over till you win.''
Apparently there are those, however, who are getting wrapped up in the excitement, and they're going to try to will their team into the archives as Los Angeles looks to equal the 1988 Edmonton Oilers' all-time playoff record of 16-2.
Amid the electric crowd, Gitig, who holds out hope for a ticket to Game 4, paid notice to one particular fan celebrating in the aisles, lost in the moment, carrying a sign that read "SWEEP SWEEP SWEEP.''
"He had to have been 80 years old,'' the fans said. "He was walking with a limp, and he had a sign. You could tell he was so pumped up."
"Usually you don't want to talk about it because two games to nothing doesn't really mean anything. … But I felt good about him. I felt good about that guy. If there's anybody in the stadium that can say it, he's allowed."
But with the Kingdom on the verge of eruption, Wednesday is simply another engrossing gameday for Sutter, who described the importance of limiting distractions on the brink of a championship.
"We did a good job in the one series of closing it out,'' he said. "In the other two, we didn't. We know the difference in the feelings. We know the difference in how we need to play and what buttons you need to press – so to speak – and just play the right way.
"You've got to play the right way. You can't think ahead. You can't look ahead. We haven't done it at all in the playoffs," he said.
"You've got to be in the moment. If you're not in the moment, you're not focused on what's right in front of you at the time. That's the way you've got to be. It's the way you've got to play."