It’s tough to say that a team “hit its stride” in Game 3 when it already led the series 2-0, but that seems to be the case with the Los Angeles Kings, who now have the New Jersey Devils against the ropes.
After back-to-back 2-1 overtime victories, in Games 1 and 2, the Kings opened up the scoring in a 4-0 rout of the Devils in Game 3.
The red-hot Kings began the 2012 playoffs as a No. 8 seed and an unlikely contender for the Stanley Cup. But now, hoisting the cup has nearly become a reality, as achieving the team’s dream is only one game away.
The Kings' key to winning Game 4 is, quite simply, to play the way they have been playing. They have been playing almost flawlessly in the playoffs, posting a 15-2 mark in the 2012 postseason. Los Angeles simply needs to remain focused in Game 4 and continue its phenomenal play.
The Kings can’t allow any distractions to creep into the locker room or onto the ice. If the players start to dream about what is at stake, Los Angeles could easily drop Game 4 to the hungry Devils.
If the Devils are able to steal a win in Los Angeles tonight, the series would head back to the home of a motivated New Jersey team for Game 5.
At this point in the playoffs, it is essential for the Kings not to provide any unwarranted momentum for their struggling opponent. However, in series past, the Kings have become lackadaisical when their opponents have been facing elimination.
Los Angeles dropped Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals—by a score of 3-1 to the Vancouver Canucks—as they did in the conference finals, by a score of 2-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes.
In each series, the Kings were able to turn around their performance on the road in Game 5 to close out their opponent.
However, there is no promising they will be as lucky in the Stanley Cup Finals versus New Jersey.
The Kings need to put the Devils away early.
By building a two- or three-goal lead by the end of the second period, the Kings will force the Devils to give up and Los Angeles will eventually be named victors over their lame-duck challengers.
If the Kings pepper New Jersey’s defense with shots early and often, their chances of winning the game and, in turn, the series will increase exponentially.
On the other hand, if the Kings allow the Devils to hang around late in the game—as they did in Games 1 and 2—Los Angeles will give New Jersey an opportunity to squeak out a victory.
The Kings' ability to build an early lead will be heavily dependent on the play of Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles' leading scorer.
Los Angeles should follow the formula set forth by its performance in Game 3: The Kings’ efficient offense and goaltender Jonathan Quick’s shutout performance were key factors in a game which the Devils never really had a chance of winning.
The Kings’ power play was deadly in Game 3, scoring on both of its opportunities. This was a significant improvement from the team’s three missed opportunities in the first two games. If the Devils are penalized early in the game, the Kings need to attack the net with similar efficiency.
If that is the case, New Jersey will find itself digging out of a hole right away.
Good goalie play is just as important as proficient offense. Quick has saved 68 of the 70 shots he has seen so far this series. If he gets out to another hot start in Game 4 and does not allow anything to get by him early, he will easily frustrate New Jersey shooters, who have had trouble finding the back of the net all series.
Overall, the Kings’ biggest challenge in Game 4 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals is to keep their eyes on the prize.
The Kings franchise has been around since the 1967-68 season, but has never won a Stanley Cup.
The closest Los Angeles has come to an NHL championship came in 1993, during the Wayne Gretzky era, when the Kings were defeated four games to one by the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Los Angeles’ first legitimate shot to win a Stanley Cup could get lost in the bright lights if the Kings are unable to remain focused.
This team has had ice water coursing through its veins for the entire 2012 playoffs, but that could quickly change if the Devils are able to force a Game 5 in New Jersey.
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