After much was made about their unorthodox, improbable (and as some would say, referee-assisted) manner in which they escaped Staples Center with a 2-0 series lead in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings silenced their critics and the Madison Square Garden crowd with an absolute no-doubter Monday night.
Led by a transcendent 32-save shutout performance by Jonathan Quick, the Kings blanked the New York Rangers 3-0 in Game 3 taking a stranglehold of the series and pulling themselves one win short of clinching their second Cup in three years.
Quick’s finest work came in the middle period, when he was able to anchor his team, which entered the frame with a 1-0 lead, against a furious Ranger onslaught without giving an inch. New York threw everything they had at the Kings, outshooting them by a 17-8 margin, but could not solve the visiting netminder, who made three or four jaw-dropping stops to preserve the goose egg on the scoreboard.
Not only was LA able to take the Rangers’ best punch without buckling, they were able to counter with a pair of second period tallies to extend their lead and all but ice the game heading into the final 20 minutes. It was a microcosm of the Cup Final to this point, with the Kings ultimately finding a way to stymie a stretch of strong play by their opponents with timely goaltending and opportunistic scoring.
Unlike the first two games of the series, Los Angeles was able to draw first blood, and they were able to do so in the most deflating way possible for the Rangers. The Kings were able to add an exclamation point onto the end of a tight, well-played first period when Jeff Carter buried a beautiful outlet pass by Justin Williams with 0.7 seconds on the clock.
It was a gut punch for the home team that would soon be worsened by a seeing-eye shot by Jake Muzzin that bounced off a Rangers defender past Henrik Lundqvist on the latter of two early second period power plays for Los Angeles.
After weathering the ensuing Rangers surge and killing off a pair of penalties, the Kings added a backbreaker at the 17:14 mark when they were able to turn a bad pinch attempt by Dan Girardi into a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Mike Richards’ pass attempt to Trevor Lewis returned to him off of Ryan McDonagh’s skate, giving him ample space on the short side against a sliding Lundqvist.
The Kings knew exactly what they had to do in the third period with a 3-0 lead, and tapped into their trademark suffocating defensive style of play, meticulously winding down the clock and snuffing out any hope of a New York comeback.
No matter if they were up a man, down a man, or facing an empty net, LA never wavered from playing smart, conservative hockey in the final 20, focusing on getting the puck safely out of their own end and depositing it deep in the Rangers’ end.
One of the primary reasons the Kings were able to completely control the flow of the game was their strong outing on special teams. Their penalty kill was masterful, silencing New York on all six of their opportunities, thanks to several big stops by Quick and a few massive shot blocks by Matt Greene and company. Not only did the PK keep the Rangers off of the scoreboard, it allowed the Kings to stem some of the momentum that New York was building in the second period. Factor in Muzzin’s power play goal earlier in the second at a time when the Rangers were trying to rally around their own penalty kill unit, and it was full-scale domination for LA in the special teams battle.
With the win the Kings take a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years, and have earned four chances to get that elusive 16th playoff victory. Rest assured that the Rangers, a team that has showcased its pride and heart so often this postseason, will not go down quietly, especially in a Game 4 before their home crowd. Los Angeles had trouble closing out the Devils in 2012, dropping Games 4 and 5 before clinching the Cup in convincing fashion in Game 6 at Staples Center; this year’s team is surely hoping to not postpone a possible celebration quite as long.
This hindsight is the single biggest advantage the Kings have over their Eastern foes in this series – not their size, not their skill or depth – but the fact that the bulk of their roster has been in this exact same spot before. Los Angeles knows what it takes to close out a series and will be careful not to rest on any laurels before finishing this series off once and for all. They know first-hand that three wins amount to absolutely nothing. They have already seen a 3-0 comeback this spring up close and personal, which could be their most valuable weapon in trying to prevent a second one.
Other Stuff and Things:
-This is the closest representation I can find of the Kings’ play in this series so far.
-My favorite thing about this team is their unwavering composure, both on the ice and in front of the media. In the post-game interviews the players wouldn’t even talk about the game that was just played – in their minds the page was already turned to the task at hand in Game 4.
Whether it was Quick dryly shooting down a reporter asking him if he could taste the Cup with a simple “no” or Greener focusing on areas of improvement, talking about the need to be more disciplined than the many things his team did well, this group is all on the same page.
That is why while it is easy as a fan to fear a let down and drop in intensity for the next couple games, reason leads me to believe this squad will not let that happen. Here’s hoping my rational instinct is more accurate than my irrational fan side.
-As to why the Kings are all aboard in their collective mindset and unflappable focus on their goal, give all credit to the man behind the bench. Coach Sutter has done an incredible job of creating an entire team of guys in his image, systematic and maddeningly even-keeled. The cliché of “buying in” to a coaches philosophy is thrown around more than it should be, but that is the only explanation for what has transpired with this Kings team. Sutter has found a way to get his team to 100% buy into what he has told them, and as a result they all have responded remarkably on the ice. The fact that he cannot be added the Jack Adams ballot after this playoff run is a crime.
Maybe one of the funnier things I have ever seen.
-The NBC feature on Dustin Brown during the first intermission was incredible. The fact that as a kid growing up around Ranger fans in New York, he chose to root for Vancouver in the 1994 Cup Finals is perfect. The guy was a pest his whole life, and is not afraid to admit it.
I’d make fun of a young Dustin Brown if he didn’t look so eerily similar to someone.
-Speaking of NBC, the production and broadcast crew must have made a decision well prior to Game 3 that regardless of what happened it would be bag-on-Rick-Nash-night. Poor guy got put through the ringer from the pre-game show to the closing remarks. I know he hasn’t been producing as someone of his compensation should, but he played an effective game yesterday, producing a slew of good scoring opportunities. Yet every intermission there was a new highlights package dwelling on his impotency. Hopefully he doesn’t pull a Patrick Sharp and come alive at the worst time (Knock on wood)
-Speaking of knocking on wood, I’m going to be doing that pretty much up until faceoff on Wednesday. Nothing makes me feel more uneasy then hearing people say the other team has no chance and that this series is over. The Kings have won three games, the series is not over, and the last thing the media needs to do is give the Rangers any more bulletin board material than they need facing the end of their season. The last win is always the toughest, please let’s not make it any harder.
-15 down, one to go. Maybe Wednesday is the night. Go Kings Go.