LOS ANGELES — The Kings are one win away from putting a Hollywood ending on one of the most spectacular playoff runs in NHL history.
Jonathan Quick made 22 saves in his third shutout of the postseason, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams each had a goal and an assist, and Los Angeles rolled to the brink of the franchise’s first title, beating the New Jersey Devils 4-0 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday night.
Alec Martinez scored the opening goal, and Jeff Carter and Williams added late power-play goals as the Western Conference champion Kings improved to 15-2 in the postseason. The eighth-seeded Kings jumped to a 3-0 lead in their fourth consecutive series – a first in NHL history.
“We’re almost where we’re trying to go, but we haven’t won anything yet,” captain Dustin Brown said. “We know what we have a chance to do, though. Having an opportunity to win a championship here could get rid of a lot of frustration for a lot of people.”
Martin Brodeur stopped 17 shots, but the Devils couldn’t beat Quick or his penalty-killers, who turned aside six power plays. New Jersey must accomplish just the fourth comeback from an 0-3 series deficit in NHL playoff history to win its third title.
After opening their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 19 years with two overtime victories, the Kings survived another solid performance early in Game 3 by the Devils, who had ample opportunity to take an early lead.
New Jersey has been pretty good in the finals, but nothing has been able to slow down these Kings.
“Before the series, we felt like this could happen, but we didn’t think it would,” said defenseman Drew Doughty, who has scored in every game of the series. “This was definitely our best game of the series. I thought they took it to us in the first period, but we got a lot better.”
The Devils had never lost three consecutive Stanley Cup finals games in the franchise’s five appearances. New Jersey hadn’t lost three games in a row this season since late February.
The Kings had to survive their early nerves from playing in front of their title-starved fans, and they barely hung on at times against the Devils’ dynamic forechecking in the first two periods. They got another peerless performance from Quick, who has allowed just 24 goals in 17 playoff games – just two in the finals.
“These guys are working really hard,” the 40-year-old Brodeur said of his teammates. “We’ve played some really good hockey. It’s just that we can’t find a way to score goals, and that’s tough, because you need goals to win. But we’re not quitting. We’re going to work really, really hard, and we’ll see where that’s going to bring us. That’s the attitude we’ve had all season long and through the playoffs. We’re just facing a team right now that’s doing everything right.”
The Kings even got something from the power play that has been their weakest feature during the postseason, going 6 for 77 before Game 3. Carter scored his sixth goal of the postseason on a splendid setup pass from longtime teammate Mike Richards early in the third period – and Williams followed 2:32 later with a slick goal in the slot, practically blowing the roof off the sold-out building.
Martinez scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period, and Kopitar followed about 10 minutes later with his third goal in four games off an impressive pass from Brown.
The Kings could celebrate their first title at home, but their only weakness in this charmed postseason has been Game 4. They’re 10-0 on the road in the postseason, but failed to close out Vancouver and Phoenix at home in Game 4s.
No team has won the Cup with a sweep since Detroit wiped out Washington in the 1998 finals.
New Jersey largely controlled play before Martinez scored the game’s first goal on a scramble in front of Brodeur, and the Devils repeatedly dominated puck possession while creating six power plays in the first two periods to none for the Kings. The Devils couldn’t score against the Kings’ stellar penalty-killers in front of Quick, who might have nosed ahead in the derby for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP with another shutout.
“It isn’t any bigger or any smaller,” Quick said of Game 4. “It’s just another game, and we’re trying to win it.”
Although the Kings have been improbably dominant during the postseason, the Devils gave Los Angeles plenty of trouble in the Kings’ two overtime victories in Newark last week. New Jersey’s strong attack and Brodeur’s solid goaltending nearly overwhelmed the Kings, who had to rely on Quick to reach overtime.
The Kings needed their penalty-killing again in the first period of Game 3 after Carter took a 4-minute penalty for high-sticking Adam Henrique while Los Angeles already was short-handed. Los Angeles killed one minute of 5-on-3 play before Marek Zidlicky lopped two more minutes off the power play with a penalty of his own to prevent a breakaway. New Jersey had just one shot to show for that lengthy advantage during the scoreless first period.
The Devils again dominated the puck early in the second period, keeping it in Los Angeles’ end for long stretches, but Quick made saves with everything from his blocker to his shoulder.
The Kings went ahead when Dwight King created a scoring chance with a big hit, eventually hacking at the puck underneath Brodeur’s pad in front. Martinez joined the effort with Trevor Lewis and got credit for the goal when the puck finally trickled in, scoring his first goal in his 23rd career playoff game. The Devils complained play should have been stopped.
Late in the period, Kopitar extended the lead on a stellar rush by the Kings’ top line. Williams moved the puck into the zone and found Brown, who feathered a cross-ice pass to Kopitar for the Slovenian star’s eighth goal of the postseason, giving Los Angeles its first two-goal lead since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
The Kings finally got a power play early in the third period, and Carter found Brodeur’s top shelf with a pass from Richards. Williams then caught the Devils’ penalty-killers napping, and the celebration was on.
Staples Center was packed to the rafters well before Wayne Gretzky took the ice for the ceremonial opening faceoff. Los Angeles’ long-suffering hockey fans hadn’t seen a Stanley Cup finals game since 1993, enduring two trips to the finals by the rival Anaheim Ducks in the previous decade while the Kings moved into their 44th season of existence without a championship.
The roaring crowd gave a standing ovation to Gretzky, the driving force behind the Kings’ only other finals appearance.
The Kings got another boost from the return of left wing Simon Gagne, who hadn’t played since Dec. 26 while recovering from a concussion. Gagne is a seven-time 20-goal scorer in his first season in Los Angeles, carrying ample playoff experience from his decade with the Philadelphia Flyers, including a trip to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.