The Los Angeles Kings are one win away from winning the Stanley Cup, but you could hardly tell based on some of the comments after Monday night’s Game 3 victory. When asked how he felt about being 60 minutes away from the Kings’ second Cup in three years, coach Darryl Sutter was as blunt as usual:
“I haven’t even thought about that. Really that has nothing to do with this series when you look. I mean, hell, we got thrown under the bus by everybody on earth seven weeks ago, so…”
The club can ignore it all they want publicly, but you know the L.A. players are well aware of how close they are to reaching the top of the NHL mountain. The New York Rangers have to beat the Kings, who seemingly have no idea what it’s like to fail in the clutch, four straight times. Make no mistake: the Kings have to be spending at least a few minutes a day thinking about what they’ll do if the Cup is handed to them.
But, up 3-0 and having the majority of league pundits claiming the series is essentially over, can the Kings take advantage of the position they’re in?
It sounds like a dumb question at surface level. It would take a monumental collapse – something L.A. took advantage of when down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks in the opening round – for this team to not close the door on New York. However, it’s also something that’s already been asked once this postseason. After fighting off elimination multiple times in the first two rounds, the Kings found themselves up 3-1 over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals. Instead of finishing off the Blackhawks without unnecessary drama, Los Angeles instead watched its opponent claw its way back into the series, forcing an intense Game 7 the Kings eventually won in overtime.
So, it has to be asked again: can L.A. cash in on what appears to be an insurmountable series lead? Have the Kings learned their lesson from the last round after getting an up-close-and-personal look at what happens when your opponent can get any sort of momentum going?
At this moment, it’s such a difficult task to predict how this Kings team will take the ice. Despite being up 3-0 in the series, Monday night was the first game of this final round in which Los Angeles played with a lead. Sure, the Kings won 3-0, but they did so while being outshot 32-15. They’ve shown a propensity for falling behind early, but more often than not they rally right back just as you’re prepping to count them out. The Kings could blow out New York tomorrow night or come out sloppy and lose; nobody would really be too surprised either way.
Watching a team appear down for the count one minute and unbeatable the next is a thrill for the casual viewer. Of course, L.A. probably would like to avoid the theatrics this time around. But, since the Kings struggled the last time they were up big in a series, it does force you to question their ability to close the door when they’re in control. They may have won the first three games of the Cup Finals, but the Kings haven’t done so convincingly enough to declare a sweep as inevitable.
Los Angeles appears to play its best hockey when backed up against the wall, but this doesn’t mean it would rather be in the Rangers’ position. Only needing one more win to walk away with the league’s top prize, the Kings need to do what they couldn’t in the last round. New York is teetering on the edge, and L.A. needs to finish the Rangers off as quickly as possible.