LOS ANGELES -- At one point, after another incredible save by Jonathan Quick
, Los Angeles Kings
captain Dustin Brown
skated by his goaltender, shook his head and unsuccessfully tried to hold back a mischievous smile.
Quick had just robbed Travis Zajac
on a point-blank chance, but it has been that kind of postseason for the Kings. Whenever it seems like it can't get any better for a team that needed 81 games to qualify for the postseason, it does -- and is now one victory away from capping quite possibly the most remarkable run to a championship in NHL history.
Buoyed at first by strong goaltending from Quick and a dominant group of penalty-killers in front of him, the Kings held off an early surge by the New Jersey Devils
before blitzing them with four unanswered goals in a 4-0 victory in Game 3 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
"I don't know what 45 years of pent-up energy sounds like, but if we play our game [Wednesday], maybe we will find out," Brown said. "I'm sure I'll think about it tomorrow and tonight, but when you get to the rink ... it is kind of hard to explain the emotions, but you've got to come focused and ready to go. You don't really think too much about it. I think there will be added pressure because we are at home and the possibility of winning it at home is pretty enticing."
The Kings now lead the series 3-0, just as they did in each of the first three rounds -- the first time that's ever happened in the 25 years since the NHL went to a best-of-seven format throughout the playoffs. Los Angeles will have its first of four tries to claim the Cup for the first time in franchise history here at Staples Center on Wednesday night(8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Not that the Kings are taking anything for granted.
"Coach [Darryl Sutter] says it best, ‘You get nothing for three [wins].' That's why the fourth is the toughest one," defenseman Willie Mitchell
said. "We're going to enjoy it, and we're going to prepare just like we have the rest of this postseason for the next one. ...We're not naive to the situation. We're definitely not. You try and fuel that energy to motivate you for the next one."
To avoid becoming the first team to be swept in the Final since the Washington Capitals in 1998, the Devils need to find some offense -- quickly. They've scored just two goals in the three losses. The way the Kings are playing -- they are 15-2 this spring and have allowed just 24 goals in the 17 games -- that won't be easy.
"You've got to find a way to score goals," said forward David Clarkson
, who was denied by Quick on a second-period breakaway when the game was still scoreless. "We haven't been putting the puck in the net. We've been working hard. We've got a great group of guys in here and we're going to continue to push. We're not done yet."
Quick finished with 22 saves for his team-record third shutout of the postseason. One year after Tim Thomas authored one of the best postseason runs by a goaltender in League history, Quick has been even more dominant. Among goaltenders who have played at least 13 games in a postseason, Quick currently has the highest save percentage (.947) and the lowest goals against average (1.44).
"He was just outstanding," Dustin Penner
said of Quick. "He's making his mark. He's been our best player all year and in the playoffs."
If Quick has been a constant for the Kings during this incredible run, the team's ability to kill penalties has been the second-most consistent strength. The Devils had three chances in each of the first two periods with the man advantage, and for 60 seconds in the first they had a 5-on-3.
Not only did the Devils not score, they didn't record a shot on net during their three chances in the second period. The Kings have now killed off 64 of the 69 power plays they have faced in this postseason, and their 92.8 percent efficiency is tops among the 16 playoff participants this spring.
"We've got a good group. We've been doing it all year," Mitchell said. "It is kind of a staple on our team. You don't think a PK that good without good goaltending. [Assistant coach] John Stevens has been terrific with it as far as details, and it has been a group that takes a lot of pride in it. We feel it makes a difference, and tonight it did."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer also pointed to the Kings' penalty kill as a key.
"We need to get that first goal out, absolutely," he said "We had some power-play opportunities there. We need to score one ... Their goalie made some big saves early. We couldn't get one."
The Devils had their best spurt of the game early in the second, but Quick made a trip of quality saves to keep the score even. One, Clarkson's breakaway, came just seconds before the Kings grabbed the lead.
put the Kings in front 1-0 at 5:40. Dwight King
emerged from a scrum along the right wall with the puck, but Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
stopped his original attempt. However, King kept swiping at the puck and Martinez finally tucked it inside the near post for his first of the series.
Brodeur argued after the play that he had the puck covered, but referee Dan O'Halloran didn't blow the whistle.
"I had the puck, I covered it with my stick and the guy just pushed me," Brodeur said. "The ref was in a tough spot to make the call. I think he was in the wrong position, so it's tough for him to make the call. I think they maybe should've asked the other referee to see what they saw before making the call -- but it is what it is, what are you going to do?"
The Devils had two of those power plays shortly after Martinez's goal, but the Kings took control of this contest during that time. Anze Kopitar
scored the prettiest goal to date of the Final at 15:07 for a 2-0 lead.
left a drop pass off the boards near the right wall to Brown, and the Kings captain found Kopitar on the far side of the ice cutting to the net. Kopitar lifted the puck over Brodeur for his second goal of this series and his eighth of the postseason, which ties him for the most in the League along with Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and Danny Briere.
"[Williams] made the little bank behind and taking the hit, their D kind of overplayed that and I had a little time," Brown said. "I didn't really see [Kopitar] beyond the guy, I just knew he was coming and I just put it there. As good as the pass was, the shot was probably better."
The one part of the Los Angeles machine that wasn't working at optimal capacity was the power play, but the Kings even fixed that problem to cap a virtuoso performance. Jeff Carter
and Williams put the game away with power-play goals 2:32 apart early in the third period.
Los Angeles had only three 5-on-4 goals in 71 opportunities this postseason, but the Kings scored back-to-back goals in that scenario to set off a prolonged celebration by a Staples Center-record crowd for a hockey game. The 18.764 fans chanted "We Want The Cup," on several occasions, and "M-V-P" -- normally reserved for Kobe Bryant in this building -- was serenaded when Quick made a couple of saves to preserve the shutout.
Those fans will be back in this building Wednesday night, and the Stanley Cup will be here as well.
"L.A. is one of those towns where if you want to get noticed, you have to win," Brown said. "We're starting to see people get pretty excited about the Kings right now, and that's nice from a player's standpoint, but probably more important for those die-hard fans that have been here through the 45 years. That goes a long way, and having an opportunity to win a championship now is [the release] of a lot of frustration for a lot of people in this city.
"To be quite honest, I can't really explain [the emotions] to you. It is just something that kinds across the world ... I don't know, the Stanley Cup is a special trophy, and you kind of dream about having this chance your whole life if you're a hockey player."