It’s polished effort as Los Angeles Kings close in on Stanley Cup
It’s all over but the polishing of the Stanley Cup.
All over but for a day and a half of the Kings dutifully insisting they can play better and the New Jersey Devils reminding everyone that other NHL teams have erased a series deficit of three games to none and there’s no reason they can’t too.
Except the Devils can’t do it. And won’t.
The Kings’ performance Monday in a 4-0 victory at a rocking, raucous Staples Center was as commanding as any they’ve given during a playoff sprint that on Wednesday could match the 16-2 mastery of the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, considered one of the most powerful teams ever assembled.
Every element that got the Kings this far was on display Monday as they built a 3-0 series lead for the fourth straight round, the first team to do that since the NHL went to a best-of-seven series in every round in 1987.
“You get nothing for three,” Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell cautioned, but in this case it’s not true. Winning the third game means the Kings will get a chance on Wednesday to lift the Cup, to reward themselves for the steadfast belief they alone held through so many regular-season struggles, and reward fans who have agonized and waited so long for this that the walls of Staples Center might not contain their joy.
“If we win one more game I hope the San Andreas fault can take it,” winger Dustin Penner said.
It’s more a matter of “when,” not “if,” on that fourth win. The way they won Monday made that inevitable.
They got secondary scoring from defenseman Alec Martinez, off a fine effort by Dwight King, before top-six forwards Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter stepped up.
They turned the game in their favor on superb penalty killing during a five-on-three New Jersey advantage in the first period.
They even mustered two power-play goals in the third period to put the game away, their first man-advantage production of the Cup Final.
And, of course, they benefited from the continued excellence of goaltender Jonathan Quick, who stopped 22 shots to set franchise records with his third shutout of these playoffs and fourth overall in postseason play. He has yielded two goals in the Final, one that deflected off teammate Slava Voynov in Game 1 and another that was redirected past him by Ryan Carter in Game 2.
“It’s surreal so far,” said Hall of Fame left wing Luc Robitaille, who never won the Cup as a player with the Kings but is close to getting his name engraved on it as their president of business operations.
Robitaille spent part of Monday’s game sitting in the stands beside Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, close enough to feel the crunch of each check and sense the passion of each rush.
That made it real to him, left his ears ringing and his heart pounding and put a grin on his face that might last for weeks.
“You know what was the greatest thing? Every single inch you see our guys battle so hard. For every single inch. It’s pretty cool,” Robitaille said. “I know it’s not over but it certainly is fun for our fans right now to see this. It’s pretty special.
“The last one is the toughest but man, the way these guys are playing. I’ve never seen a team play like that, with every single guy battling. They battle so hard. That’s the biggest thing. It’s incredible.”
Still, players said they have not played their best yet, in that aspect staying as much in sync off the ice as they had been on it.
“The Devils have carried parts of these games and, really, parts of this series so far,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “We’re fortunate to be up, 3-0. We’ve earned it but I don’t think there’s any reason to be overconfident given the way they’ve played.”
Center Jarret Stoll said the Kings can be more composed in their zone and offer stronger support to their defensemen and on breakouts. But even he acknowledged the many impressive aspects of their effort.
“We got our game going,” he said. “The second and third periods we were playing L.A. Kings hockey, for sure.”
As of Wednesday, L.A. Kings hockey may also be known as Stanley Cup-winning hockey.
“We’re not going to let anything get in our way. We certainly don’t want to get back on that plane,” winger Justin Williams said of the possibility of returning to New Jersey for a fifth game. “We’re tasting that we’re close and that should drive us even more.”
No guaranteeing, though, whether the San Andreas fault can take it.
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