LOS ANGELES -- Two years ago veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell stood in front of his locker before Game 4 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final with a glowing expression. It was difficult for him not to get emotional at the prospect of winning the Cup for the first time.
It might have also been difficult for the rest of the Los Angeles Kings, who lost in their first attempt to close the series against the New Jersey Devils at home. They are more guarded this time around, and it was evident at the morning skate before Game 5 Friday against the New York Rangers at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
The Kings lead the best-of-7 series 3-1. This is their first chance to close it out at home.
"As a team, I don't think we talk about , but at the same time I think we all know that we failed to close it out two times," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "That's always going to be in the back of our minds. But what we can do is we can learn from that experience. We know what we did wrong and we know why we let them back in the series.
"That's why [Friday] we figure we have to close it out, because the more games we give them the more life they get. Especially here at Staples, our home arena. It's a very important game for us."
Mitchell said, "We'd all be lying if [we said] it doesn't cross your mind" that the Cup is in the building, but that they are professionals and the first step toward that goal is a strong start.
That's been an issue for Los Angeles, which has fallen behind 2-0 in Games 1, 2 and 4 of the Final. The Kings have trailed after the first period 12 times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are 5-7 in those games. It was a well-worn topic Friday, and Mitchell had a succinct answer why.
"Not scoring," Mitchell said. "I don't know. You don't want to take penalties. Sometimes that can get you in the wrong position. I think maybe we had three games there earlier on in the playoffs [where] we had some better starts. It's just kind of the ebb and flow of the playoffs. Some stretches you score first, some you're not. You're trying to accomplish that every game, but it doesn't necessarily execute every time."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter had a simple yet direct answer about opening the game strong.
"How important is a good start?" Sutter said. "Well, that's why they put time on the clock always. That's when it starts."
The Kings had one of their most dominating third periods in Game 4, although Sutter wouldn't admit that much even though Los Angeles outshot New York 15-1. A great final push doesn't carry over to Game 5, however, and the Kings know they have to start from scratch again.
Before the Cup-clinching Game 6 of the 2012 Final, right wing Justin Williams gave an inspired pregame speech. But the Kings are experienced enough to not need that at this point.
"There's not much to be said this time of year," Mitchell said. "Everyone knows the recipe that we want: It's a good start. We're a much better team with a good start. And that's about it. We know [the Cup is] in the building and we know what we're playing for. I don't think there needs to be any extra motivation at this time of year. I think the motivation's there. I think it's just about doing the right things with that motivation."
Some players opted to skate Thursday and were not required to Friday, so the Kings did not do line rushes. The Rangers did not skate.
Here are the projected lineups:
Marian Gaborik - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford - Mike Richards - Trevor Lewis
Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
Scratched: Robyn Regehr, Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan, Linden Vey, Andy Andreoff, Brayden McNabb, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Jeff Schultz, Jean-Francois Berube
Carl Hagelin - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Chris Kreider - Dominic Moore - Martin St. Louis
Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Brian Boyle - Brad Richards - Derek Dorsett
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
John Moore - Kevin Klein
Scratched: Daniel Carcillo, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Justin Falk, Raphael Diaz
Injured: Cam Talbot (undisclosed)