NEW YORK – Make no mistake, the Los Angeles Kings are one win away from their second Stanley Cup in three years because of their physical advantage over the New York Rangers.
Perhaps more important, though, is the edge the Kings have had on the mental side of the game. They rebounded from a two-goal deficit in Game 1, and from a trio of two-goal deficits in Game 2.
They never had to do such a thing in Game 3.
The Rangers allowed the game’s first goal on Monday with 0.8 seconds left in the first period, and they never had the answer. When Los Angeles scored again, 4:17 into the second period, it was clamp-down time for the west coasters.
In other words, game over.
“We grind away and gradually take over games,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “That goal at the end of the first with less than a second left is a big momentum swing. We had a big power play goal early [in the second]. We’ve had to play from behind so often and that’s what everybody’s talking about, but if you look at our record with leads after two periods, I think we’ve lost maybe three or four games in four or five years.”
Los Angeles has been through the ringer. Not just this season, but in their championship run of 2012. They know what to do, where to go, how to act. They know how to win.
“We’re a team that plays a lot different, I think, when we have the lead,” said Kings forward Mike Richards. “We play with confidence. We don’t sit back, and we just keep pushing. I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
“It seemed like pretty much the same game-plan from them,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We tried to continue with our speed, and had a lot of shots, but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t put it in. You can battle for rebounds, but they do a good job of clearing out, so we have to fight and pay the price to whack one in.”
The Kings have been here before, and it shows. After coming back from a 3-0 series deficit in the first round, they’ve shown themselves as the most mentally strong team in the playoffs. Since that nearly-fatal early stumble, they’re 15-6.
“I think it’s fair to say anybody who’s not thinking about [being one win away from the Stanley Cup] is not being honest,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “At the same time, we’ve had the ability to not look too far ahead. We’ve also had the experience of being through this same exact situation, being up 3-0, so we need to lean on each other and that experience.”
For New York, Monday’s Game 3 – the first Stanley Cup Final game played at Madison Square Garden since the championship of 1994 – was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The team was bottled up despite outshooting its opponent 32-15, including 28-10 over the final 40 minutes.
“It’s really frustrating,” said Rangers forward Rick Nash. “We’ve got to work ourselves out of this. We’ve been down 3-1 and were able to come back, but even when we were down in that Pittsburgh series we took it a game at a time, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
“I’m just extremely disappointed that we’re in this hole,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “We’ve been talking about it after every game that we played really well, but in the end it’s about finding ways to win. It’s not about playing great, it’s about winning. We have to regroup. It’s not over.”
It’s almost over. One more loss before four more improbable wins, and it will be over. The Rangers have their backs against the wall. It may not be fair – this series probably doesn’t deserve to be 3-0.
But it is.
“At some point, you’re going to need some puck-luck and we don’t have any right now,” Lundqvist said. “It feels like they have all of it.”
“That’s just how it’s going,” Rangers defenseman Girardi said. “We had a couple of good looks, and just an inch higher and it’s in. That’s kind of how the games have been. It’s been little plays that make the difference.
Little plays that turn into something. Obviously something big.
Only one team has ever recovered from a 3-0 series deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, the 1942 Maple Leafs, who shocked Detroit in seven games.
Jeff Carter’s goal with 0.8 seconds left in the first period was the fifth goal in the final second of a period in Stanley Cup Final history. It gave the Kings their first lead since the third period of Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, a span of 249:14.
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