Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Kings on the precipice of Stanley Cup title
By Dan Arritt
Stanley Cup Final
Game 4 (Kings lead series, 3-0)
Kings vs. New Jersey Devils at Staples Center, 5 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Let it rain – The day that many thought would never arrive in L.A. is finally here. The Kings can clinch their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history with a victory in Game 4, erasing a 45-year championship drought and making a bunch of die-hard fans very happy. As difficult as it has been for the Kings to win a playoff series over the years, or even qualify for the postseason, this run has been remarkably seamless. They’ve won 15 of 17 games and haven’t been pushed beyond a Game 5 in the first three rounds. With a win in Game 4, the Kings would tie the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the quickest route to a Cup title since the playoffs were expanded to a best-of-seven format for all four rounds in 1987.
2. Just a number – As potentially the first eighth-seeded team to win a Stanley Cup title since the league went to a conference-based format in 1994, the Kings continue to receive plenty of attention for their spot in the pecking order. In reality, they were the third-seeded team in the West when they qualified for the playoffs with two regular-season games remaining, then took their only breather in the last 3 ½ months and dropped the last two to tumble to No. 8. Not owning home-ice advantage in the playoffs has been a blessing in disguise, as the Kings have won the first two games on the road in all four rounds.
3. First blood, Part IV – When the Kings score first in this postseason, they’re 10-1. They’ve notched the first goal in every game of this series, despite getting outplayed at the beginning of Games 1 and 2, and have yet to trail in a game. If the Kings can pull off another wire-to-wire victory against the Devils, they’d become the first team since 1960 to win the Cup without ever trailing during the finals. New Jersey has never been swept in franchise history either, but a couple first-period goals by L.A. might just encourage New Jersey to start packing for the long flight home.
4. Offensively-challenged – Scoring first is much easier when the opponent doesn't score. The Devils have lit the lamp just twice in the first three games of this series and those were hockey’s version of a broken bat single. They have no offensive synchronization, whether on the power play or at even strength, and haven’t shown any creativity with the puck. Of course, much of this is due to the plug the Kings have in their net. If goalkeeper Jonathan Quick can pitch a second consecutive shutout in Game 4, the Kings would become just the second team in NHL history to hold a team to two goals or less in the Cup finals.
5. Head game – Quick has clearly disrupted the Devils’ offensive rhythm, if not completely gotten into their heads. When the Devils get a rare look at the net, they’re trying to be perfect with their aim. They took 21 shots that were off target in Game 4, compared to 22 on goal. The New Jersey defensemen were especially wayward with their shot attempts last game, as 12 of 18 were off their mark and several others were blocked. And when the Devils have put their shots on target, Quick has stopped the puck 97.2 percent of the time. They must be wondering what more they can do to score a goal.