EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Jonathan Quick remembers eating ice pops with his friends and watching their beloved New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup on television in 1994. Dustin Brown vaguely recalls Joe Nieuwendyk bringing the Cup to Ithaca, N.Y., but can’t remember if he got to see it up close.
With just one more win by their Los Angeles Kings, the star goalie and the courageous captain will have the Stanley Cup in their hands, above their head - even in the Pacific Ocean, if they choose.
The stage is set for a California coronation in Game 4 on Wednesday night. The Kings could complete a sweep of the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, giving their fans a celebration that’s been 45 years in the making.
The eighth-seeded Kings are dominating the NHL playoffs with an ease that’s stranger than ice in sunny L.A. A franchise that never has done much of anything in the postseason already has conquered the Western Conference, and the Kings are one win from claiming their first championship in almost impossibly stylish fashion.
The Kings are on a 15-2 playoff tear that has only one equal in NHL history, leaving everyone searching for superlatives to describe the way Los Angeles has steamrolled every opponent by a combined 49-24 margin.
Game 4 is even a chance for Los Angeles to be the first NHL team to win the Cup at home since Anaheim in 2007, rewarding the fans who consistently sold out Staples Center even during the Kings‘ ignominious playoff absence from 2002-10 before general manager Dean Lombardi’s rebuilding plan yielded bountiful fruit this spring.
“There’s a lot at the end there to look forward to, if we play the right way,” Jarret Stoll said. “I’m sure we’ll talk a lot about it the next day and a half to get ready, making sure we’re playing the right way, having the right attitude. Can’t get too excited, look too far ahead. You have to stay in the moment and play the game.”
The Kings appear to be neither overly excited nor overly defensive about the potential conclusion to this two-month playoff push. Los Angeles has been remarkably unaffected by any of its success after a rough regular season in which a playoff berth wasn’t secure until just before the 81st game.
They have a chance to match Edmonton’s NHL-record 16-2 run through the 1988 playoffs in Game 4, but the Kings aren’t getting too high.
“It doesn’t count any more than the rest of them did,” insisted Quick, who has allowed just 24 goals in 17 playoff games. “Obviously, we’re not going to start thinking about stuff that hasn’t happened yet.”
The Kings started this run with two road victories over top-seeded Vancouver nearly two months ago, and they haven’t slowed down. Los Angeles eliminated the top three seeds in the West and eventually took a 3-0 lead in all four of its playoff series - both unprecedented accomplishments in NHL history.
Los Angeles is led by Brown, leading playoff scorer Anze Kopitar and Quick, the All-Star goalie and Conn Smythe Trophy favorite who has a .950 save percentage behind a shot-blocking defense that has allowed just five power-play goals in 69 chances. The Kings have won four straight games and 12 of their past 13, never even trailing at any point in nine of their last 11 games - including the entire Cup Final so far.
“I don’t think we believe we deserve to be in the hole we’re in,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think we played better than the situation indicates, but that’s hockey. We have to persevere here, and stick with it and find a solution.”
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