By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings had just steamrolled through the top three seeds in the Western Conference and claimed the first three games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
It was a surge unlike anything in League history -- a No. 8 seed, a team that barely got into the Stanley Cup Playoffs went 15-2 to move within one win of a championship. The Kings had a chance to win the Cup in a series sweep, on home ice and on the 45th anniversary of the organization adding its first players in the 1967 expansion draft, no less.
All the Kings had to do was finish off the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 at Staples Center, but a few of the players said Sunday the mental fortitude that kept this club so focused despite leading the first three series of the postseason 3-0 slipped just a bit before the first potential Cup-clincher on home ice Wednesday night.
"We don't want any distractions. I think a lot of us before Game 4 were distracted with family members and friends, the Cup coming in the building," defenseman Drew Doughty said at the Toyota Sports Center. "A lot of things we have to put aside. Family always comes first for everyone, but at this point of the year, the team has to come first. We're a family in the room, on the ice. Right now, we're No. 1 in everyone's mind."
The relative youth of the Kings' roster can be forgotten, especially after Los Angeles torched Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix before reeling off three wins to start this series. There are only four guys among the 20 who will likely dress Monday night in Game 6 at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) who are at least 30 years of age.
There are four guys who have been on the ice to celebrate an NHL title (Dustin Penner, Justin Williams, Rob Scuderi and Colin Fraser), and some guys who have watched a team celebrate (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene), but this whole experience is still a new one for a lot of guys on the Kings, including the young members of the team's core.
"It is part of the whole situation, but it also part of being a professional to put that aside and focus on what you need to do to help this team win," captain Dustin Brown said. "I think guys are much more settled in now that we’re home and we have an opportunity to win again on home ice. I think the guys are excited and focused.
"You can eliminate the family, but I don't know about the Cup. It is one of those things were everyone was excited about the situation. It is different for everyone. Everyone handles it differently, but at the end of the day you have to push those distractions aside and prepare yourself."
After a loss in Game 4 and another in Game 5 in Newark on Saturday, the Kings will be back at home Monday with a third chance to clinch the Cup. The team has been staying at a downtown hotel near the arena to try and keep the distractions away.
When the team went on such a roll, it wasn't as easy to keep that intense focus with the finish line so near.
"Well, it's tough," Richards said. "You get a lot of texts and calls. People want to come and be a part of it. At the same time, it's something you have to handle as a professional -- limit distractions, focus on the game."
Now the Kings will have a chance to prove they have learned from their mistake. The mission is simple: forget about everything else and win a hockey game.
"Yeah, I think that's a lesson learned," Doughty said. "We realize a lot of us didn't play at our potential in Game 4. We were nervous, worried about other things. All of us in the room were kind of frustrated that we were thinking about things ahead of time. Darryl [Sutter] made sure that wasn't going to happen this time. We'll be well-prepared for Game 6."