Stanley Cup final
Game 3 (Kings lead series 2-0)
Kings vs. New Jersey Devils at Staples Center, 5 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Just win, baby: Safe to say, L.A. is fortunate to be leading this series. The Devils have been hard on the Kings, even beating them at their own game in some areas. If not for Mark Fayne missing a wide-open side of the net late in Game 1, or Ilya Kovalchuk ringing his wrister off the wrong side of the crossbar with seven seconds remaining in Game 2, the momentum could easily be pointing east rather than west. But hey, no team got more unlucky bounces than the Kings during the first three quarters of the regular season. Now the series heads to L.A., where the Kings have actually played an inferior brand of hockey for most of the last eight months. They need to make the right adjustments, or the Devils could easily turn this into the dogfight most everyone anticipated.
2. Full speed ahead: After strolling through the first 16 games at a snail’s pace, the postseason finally shifts into overdrive over the next three days. The Kings headed straight to the airport following Game 2 on Saturday night, getting home around 4:30 a.m. They’ll take the ice for Game 3 warm-ups approximately 36 hours later. Following another day off Tuesday, they’ll come right back for Game 4 at Staples Center on Wednesday evening. Thanks to their 2-0 series lead, the Kings had the luxury of skipping practice Sunday afternoon. Not the Devils. They were out at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, trying to figure ways to get the puck past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. In an interesting scheduling twist, New Jersey is outside the Eastern time zone for the first time since mid-January.
3. Rough around the edges: A few of L.A.’s big-bodied forwards were stymied by the Devils in Game 2. Dustin Brown did not record a shot on goal, Dustin Penner didn’t get one until overtime and Anze Kopitar’s only shot on net came from 171 feet away midway through the third period. New Jersey’s relentless forecheck seemed to be a big contributor to the trio’s struggles. Since that strategy seemed to work so well in Game 2, look for the Devils to turn up the heat in Game 3. It’s up to the Kings to find ways to get the puck out of their end more efficiently. They did a better job in Game 1 by quickly passing the puck into the middle of the ice, but that also left them vulnerable to costly turnovers in a high-percentage scoring area.
4. Sneaky Devils: While the four goals by the Kings in this series have been works of art, New Jersey’s have been as dirty as a junkyard dog. Anton Volchenkov’s shot from the point in Game 1 was saved by the stick of Quick, but then took an unfortunate bounce off the chest of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and caromed into the net. Marek Zidlicky took another point shot through traffic in Game 2 and that one was tipped in by New Jersey forward Ryan Carter, who was parked in the high slot. Not a bad idea by the Devils, considering Quick is stopping everything he sees. If the Devils are planning to set up camp in front of the net again, the Kings need to be there too. They did a better job of that in Game 2, blocking 19 shots, one of their highest totals of this postseason. The usual suspects, defensemen Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, led the way with four each.
5. Paging Mr. Smythe: What more can be said about Quick? While in New Jersey, he managed to lower his minuscule goals-against average in the playoffs from 1.54 to 1.44., and his save percentage from to .946 to .947. He’s the reason the Kings have stolen five games in the postseason while scoring two goals or less, including the first two of this series. He’s been exceptionally good in Game 3s in this playoff run, allowing three goals in the three victories at Staples Center and stopping 86 of 89 shots (.966).