Of the 11 members of the Los Angeles Kings to score a goal through the first three games of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, only two have never played in the NHL’s championship series before.
True, the Kings won the Cup just two springs ago, so of course they have the championship experience advantage against the New York Rangers, but experience is nothing without execution. Just ask Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards over in the other dressing room.
After a 3-0 loss to the Kings Monday night, the Rangers are down 3-0 in the series and in serious danger of being swept because the guys who have been there before look like they’re anywhere but here now.
St. Louis has a single goal in this year’s Final, a power-play marker in Game 2. The 2004 Stanley Cup champion has just four shots and a minus-four rating against the Kings.
His fellow former Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Richards has no points, a minus-four rating and a whole lot of explaining to do.
So does head coach Alain Vigneault, who told Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News that he wasn’t worried about his veterans heading into Game 3.
"Brad, with his experience, knows his whole line needs to be better," he said. "They’re veteran guys, they’ve been around. They’ll have a good bounceback (in Game 3)."
They didn’t, and there may be just one more opportunity. Wednesday night, the Kings can sweep this series.
Of the 26 teams that have ever claimed three-game leads to start a Cup Final, only one has ended up losing the championship. The Kings are too good, too resilient, too focused and too experienced to let this slip away.
Seventeen members of the Kings have championship rings from 2012 as they seek a second in three seasons. Some of the key moments, though, have come from those who were not only part of the Cup-winning team from two years ago, but who have also either won previously or lost in a Stanley Cup Final with another team.
It’s paying off, as Dennis Bernstein of TFP Magazine noted.
17 Kings with rings on roster, championship experience showing. Giving Rangers chances but zero panic.— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) June 10, 2014
Justin Williams, the overtime hero from Game 1, has a ring from his 2006 run with the Carolina Hurricanes. Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, two of his Edmonton Oilers opponents in that final series, are now teammates with the Kings.
Stoll has a goal in this series. Greene is keeping fellow veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr out of the lineup with his own strong play and may have had his best game of the playoffs Monday night, when he had three blocks and a plus-one rating in limited minutes.
“I think our veterans on the back end have been really solid,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter told the assembled media in New York after the game, as seen live on the NHL Network. “I think whichever two have been in there have been really solid. Whoever we’ve put in there has shown their leadership and confidence to the group.”
Then there’s Jeff Carter and Mike Richards: The Philadelphia Connection.
With a chance to put the stranglehold on the Rangers, the former Philadelphia Flyers leaders each scored in Game 3. Carter’s speedy dash and wrist shot beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for what turned out to be the winning goal in the final second of the first period.
Richards added insurance in the second period during a two-on-one rush when his pass attempt banked back to him off a Rangers skate and his shot beat Lundqvist to make it a 3-0 lead.
Best game I have seen Mike Richards play this season.— Mike Brophy (@HockeyBroph) June 10, 2014
Carter and Richards won with the Kings in 2012. Before that, they felt the sting of disappointment—which can be just as motivating and educational as winning a title—when the Flyers lost the 2010 Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The fact it was those two veterans leading the way Monday should not come as a surprise. They’re winners. They’re difference-makers.
The Rangers need some of those.
They have some speedy, young, hungry players and have performed relatively well in the Cup Final despite the lopsided series mark. But they aren’t getting the leadership they need against the Kings.
They get their only other Cup winner—Dan Carcillo, who was with Carter and Richards in Philly in 2010—back for Game 4. He played a limited role with the Blackhawks last year and can’t be counted on for more than a bit of energy against the Kings.
No, the Rangers need St. Louis. They need Brad Richards. They need veteran Rick Nash, who has been engaged in battle but without a point so far in the series.
“We’re in a hole, we can’t look at the big picture,” Nash told reporters, as seen on the NHL Network after the game. “We know we’ve got to win a lot of games in a row to get back, but we just have to worry about the next one.
“We’ve got to work our way out of this.”
It starts with the guys who already have their names engraved on the Cup.
If they want that to happen again, they better get going in a hurry.
Steve Macfarlane has covered the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons on the beat with the Calgary Sun. Follow him on Twitter @macfarlaneHKY.
All stats courtesy of CBC and NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
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