|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
NEW YORK -- Leave it to Darryl Sutter, Uncle Grumpy, to put it all in perspective when asked about his team keeping its focus just one win away from another Stanley Cup triumph.
"I haven't even thought about that. Really that has nothing to do with this series when you look," the Los Angeles Kings coach said. "I mean, hell, we got thrown under the bus by everybody on earth seven weeks ago, so ..."
Then after a brief pause, he looked at this intrepid ESPN.com reporter, who had asked the question, and for emphasis added while tilting his head with a crooked smile: "Right?"
Well, right indeed.
Seven weeks ago, after an overtime loss at home April 22 to San Jose, the Kings were down 3-0 in a first-round series and seemingly one game away from their season ending.
Now they're one win away from their second Cup victory in three years.
You sort of run out of ways to describe this incredible Kings team, right?
Three Game 7 victories, a perfect 7-0 in elimination games, a league record for winning three consecutive payoff games after trailing 2-0 in each. It's kind of mind-blowing.
Heck, Monday night's 3-0 shutout of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden was almost boring in some ways, short of the kind of hair-raising drama we've come to expect from this Kings squad.
|The Kings' depth has been key to their success despite playing three straight seven-game series.|
"The games have been so back-and-forth and nail-biting, I'm sure for fans, people watching the games," Kings veteran center Jarret Stoll said. "But we were feeling it, we were rolling our lines, 25-35 seconds [shifts], just keeping the tempo high.
"We controlled the neutral zone, we got pucks in behind their D and that was our game plan."
Oh, people will point to New York's 32-15 shots advantage, which is somewhat unrepresentative of the game given that the Rangers had almost double the power-play time, plus teams that get down 3-0 in a game always ramp up the number of shots out of desperation.
Still, no question this was Jonathan Quick's best effort in probably a month for the Kings, absolutely 2012-like in shutting down the Rangers.
All the Kings needed from Quick entering the Cup finals was to make sure he was as good as Henrik Lundqvist and not allow the Rangers star goalie to steal the series. Two periods through Game 2, it appeared that Lundqvist was getting the upper hand over Quick.
Six consecutive Kings goals later, not only is Quick holding his own, he has in fact outplayed Lundqvist to this point.
"I don't think he has to remind us too many times. We know what he's capable of," Kings center Anze Kopitar said of his goalie. "That's why we love having him back there."
Overall, this was very much a Kings-like victory Monday night, a more controlled affair compared to the sloppy OT wins at Staples Center to open the series.
"That was our hockey, our team tonight," Stoll said. "We wanted to get the lead and stifle them, come up with pucks, stay on top of them."
"This was more our style," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We grind away, get an important goal at the end of one, find a power-play goal. We waited for our chances, got a two-on-one goal. Everyone's talking about the shot difference, and our PK was on the ice a lot, unfortunately, and that was a problem for us early -- actually all throughout [the] playoffs -- is our penalties. But our PK came up huge."
The Kings had played four straight games they weren't terribly happy with, the last two in the Chicago series and the opening two in the Cup finals, winning three of those four despite turning the puck over like we're not used to seeing.
On Monday night, the Kings committed 22 fewer giveaways (11) compared to the 33 they had in Game 2.
"This is probably the best game we've played since Game 1 at Chicago," Brown said. "We lost that game, but that was one of our better games. I thought tonight we had more of the same. It starts with our goaltender and out from there. He made a big save early on an empty net. That gives us a little second life and we find a way to grind a win."
Two years ago, a more inexperienced Kings team went up 3-0 on the New Jersey Devils on this same stage and then lost its focus a little so close to the finish line, losing two straight before closing things out at home in Game 6.
That experience will come in handy now.
"We can't get ahead of ourselves. That's very important," Kings star blueliner Drew Doughty said. "We were up 3-1 against Chicago and we let them back into the series. We could have lost that series, no problem. We know how easy it is for teams to get back in a series. And we have to shut it out right away. We can't let them get any energy from their crowd in their arena in the next game. We need to try and close it out as soon as possible."
Not to mention what they themselves did to the Sharks in the opening round. There is no chance whatsoever they'll be booking their trip to Disney World just yet.
No, a team that has played an NHL-leading 62 playoff games over the past three postseasons has too much institutional knowledge about what's at stake to take their foot off the pedal.
"We've been in this position before," Brown said. "Confidence, that's a part of it, but it's more about your will this time of year. It's resetting and reloading. I know that gets boring for you guys, but that's the truth."
Also noteworthy Monday night was the energy the Kings played with. They didn't look like the sluggish, fatigued Kings team that came out of the gates slow in L.A.
Sutter talked on Sunday about his team's depth being the great equalizer in battling fatigue.
That certainly surfaced again Monday night with Jeff Carter, Jake Muzzin and Mike Richards all scoring their first goals of the series. Matt Greene was sensational on the penalty kill. The Kings got minutes and contributions from everybody up and down the lineup.
"Depth has been huge," Doughty said. "Our top players have been playing great, but so far in this Stanley Cup finals, you're not seeing Kopi [Anze Kopitar] get a ton of points, you're not seeing myself get a lot of points, you're not seeing Carts get a lot of points. It's all been Cliffy and Stolly and Williams, guys like that that are stepping up to the plate. That's how you win championships. I know we haven't won it yet but that's how you get to the point we're at right now. We need the whole team, that's the bottom line, if you're playing too many guys too often, they're going to get tired."
No time to get tired now. Lord Stanley's mug will be in the building Wednesday night.
"We're a loose group, we're a confident group, we're a strong group," Stoll said.
"It's a grind," Brown said. "But going into this postseason and the way this team is built and the way [it] has played over the past few postseasons, we're never the best team in the regular season, but we found ways to play playoff hockey at the right time. A lot of it is just how we're built and how we play."