While the Kings’ leading scorers continued their personal race to finish as the NHL’s playoffs points leader Monday, center Mike Richards pulled out of an extended drought.
Richards sent a puck toward teammate Trevor Lewis early in the third period only to see the pass instead glance off the leg of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and back to Richards.
Richards promptly gathered the puck and shot, beating New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the final Kings goal in their 3-0 Game 3 victory at Madison Square Garden that leaves them one victory from their second Stanley Cup title in three seasons.
It was Richards’ first goal since the Kings’ Game 7 rout of the Ducks in the Western Conference semifinals.
The slump hasn’t mattered to the Kings, who’ve received torrid postseasons from current playoff points leader, center Anze Kopitar (26), center Jeff Carter (24) and forward Justin Williams (24).
Forward Marian Gaborik leads all goal-scorers in the playoffs with 13.
“Ever since I came to this team [from Philadelphia in 2011], it’s always been a team that has fun around each other,” Richards said afterward.
“Fun to go to the rink, enjoy each other’s company. It’s no different to this day. We seem to be a big family.”
Williams’ assist gives him a Stanley Cup Final-leading six points, and extended his points streak to five games.
Richards said Carter’s game-opening goal, with 0.8 seconds left in the first period, was the game’s most important, because it allowed the Kings to be more attentive to their defensive strengths.
The Kings allowed the fewest goals in the NHL during the regular season.
“When we have the lead … we play with confidence,” Richards said.
Some 3-0 perspective
By winning with just 15 shots on goal, the Kings became the first team to do so in the Stanley Cup Final since the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 7, 2004. They beat the Calgary Flames with 15 shots during a 2-1 victory in Game 7.
Teams leading a Stanley Cup Final three games to none have won the series 25 of 26 times, the exception being the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs when they came back to beat the Detroit Red Wings.
When the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, they beat the New Jersey Devils in overtime in the first two games — as they’ve done against the Rangers in this series — then won by shutout in Game 3. When a reporter excitedly reminded Kings Coach Darryl Sutter of that similarity Monday, the coach said, “Haven’t even thought about that, has nothing to do with this series.”
Kings finally lead
By scoring with 0.8 seconds left in the first, Carter not only gave the Kings their first regulation lead since Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, but also it allowed him to join four others who scored in the final second of a period in a Stanley Cup Final.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson was the only other to do so in the last 48 years when he scored late in the first period of the Senators’ 3-2 loss to the Ducks in Game 4 of the 2007 final.
The Kings have scored three or more goals in nine consecutive games, a great improvement from their 2.42 goals-per-game average during the regular season. They’ve scored 84 playoff goals, averaging 3.50 a game.
The Rangers moved forward Rick Nash to the power-play unit in attempt to beef up that unit.
Yet, they went zero for six with a man advantage, and were blanked for the third time in their 23rd postseason game.
“Couldn’t score,” Coach Alain Vigneault said of his team’s demoralizing night. “They found a way to put the puck past a real good goaltender [New York’s Henrik Lundqvist], and we couldn’t do it.
“You’ve got to finish in this game. It’s a performance-oriented business. Power play had some looks, but it didn’t finish.”
Many of the Rangers were asked where this loss leaves them.
Defenseman Dan Girardi said his team needs to find inspiration from the Eastern Conference semifinals’ comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It wasn’t 3-0, but we were down 3-1 against Pittsburgh and we rolled off five wins in a row,” Girardi said.
“We just have to win one game, bring it back to L.A., see what happens.”