EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Don’t put the champagne on ice just yet.
That was the mindset a day after the Los Angeles Kings snowplowed the New Jersey Devils, 4-0, in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals.
The victory Monday night at Staples Center put the Kings up 3-0 in the series, leaving them one win from raising their first Cup in franchise history. In the minds of the players, however, they’re also four straight losses from having it snatched away.
“Can't get too excited, look too far ahead,” said third-line center Jarret Stoll. “You have to stay in the moment and play the game.”
It’s an approach that has worked well throughout this 15-2 playoff run:
Win Game 1, then forget about Game 1.
Win Game 2, then forget about Game 2.
Win Game 3, then forget about Game 3.
If the Kings have one flaw outside their power play this postseason -- and even that came through with two goals Monday night -- it’s completing the sweep. They’ve lost two of three Game 4s in the playoffs, giving the opposition a ray of hope.
Nobody is more aware of this inconsistency than the players.
“We haven't been very good in these situations,” said second-line center Mike Richards. “It's something we have to improve on, obviously. We still know that we can play better. ... We're going to have to be, because [the Devils] are going to bring it all.”
When the Devils skate out for Game 4 on Wednesday evening at Staples Center, they'll be on a road 25 teams have traveled before, but only one has completed. Since the league went to a best-of-seven format for the finals in 1939, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs managed to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win the Cup.
Again, as long as there’s a crack in the door, the Kings said they won't be thinking about the celebration down the hall.
“We know how tough of a game it's going to be, what's ahead of us,” Richards said of Game 4. “At the same time, we have to be ready for it and not make mistakes just because we're nervous.”
Richards, who lost in the Stanley Cup finals two years ago as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, said one way to stay calm is to bask in these final moments together.
“It's something we have to try to embrace,” he said. “Not be nervous, but try to enjoy.”
And then there’s goalie Jonathan Quick, the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy who maintains his composure by treating every game as if it’s the same, even if it might be the biggest in franchise history.
“It doesn't count any more than the rest of them did,” Quick said. "It's one game, so we're just going to play our game, work as hard as we can, try to be as prepared as possible and see what happens.”
Maybe then the Kings can finally raise a toast.