NEW YORK -- Are the Los Angeles Kings where they are -- on the precipice of capturing their second Stanley Cup title in the past three seasons -- solely because of a single player?
They are where they are because coach Darryl Sutter can roll four different line combinations and three different defensive pairings at any point in any game.
They are where they are because up and down their lineup -- especially down the middle -- they have an abundance of depth.
“I think that’s the strength of our team,” captain Dustin Brown said after the Kings secured a 3-0 series stranglehold with a 3-0 Game 3 victory Monday over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “That’s where we match up really well against other teams.
“All the teams we’ve played, everybody’s gonna have a really good first line and second line. But our third line and our fourth line, I think they tip the scales in our favor against most teams."
“I mean, that was the difference, I think, against Chicago [in the Western Conference finals]," Brown continued. "It was [Anze Kopitar], me and [Marian Gaborik] playing against [Jonathan Toews] and his line. It was our depth scoring that really helped us in that series and [Monday night]. That’s what being a team is all about -- having everyone contribute.”
On Monday night, everyone did: from second-line center Jeff Carter's opening the scoring with less than a second remaining in the first period to all-world goaltender Jonathan Quick's making 17 saves in the middle frame to No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty's taking a smart penalty to prevent Rick Nash from tallying what would have been a sure wraparound goal.
Doughty’s partner Jake Muzzin and fourth-line pivot Mike Richards provided insurance markers in the second. Depth defensemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene were tremendous in helping stifle the Rangers while the Kings were on the penalty kill.
It was every bit of a team effort.
“Our top players have been playing great,” Doughty said. “But so far in the Stanley Cup finals, you’re not seeing Kopi get a ton of points, you’re not seeing myself get a lot of points [or] Carts.
“It’s been [Kyle Clifford], [Jarret Stoll] and [Justin Williams] and guys like that that are stepping up to the plate, and that’s how you win championships. I know we haven’t won yet, but that’s how you get to the point where we are right now. We need the whole team; that’s the bottom line.”
During the playoffs, 11 different Kings have registered 10 or more points, 11 different Kings have notched game-winning goals and four different Kings have notched winning overtime goals.
Los Angeles leads the NHL by averaging 3.5 goals per game during the postseason, while putting up solid percentages on the power play (24 percent) and penalty kill (83 percent).
Kopitar, the league’s leading playoff scorer (26 points), was asked if the Kings’ depth started at center.
“It’s everybody,” he said. “I think it starts in the back with Jonathan and our defensive pairings. They’ve been really good for us. They’ve been making plays out of the zone, which obviously makes it a little bit easier on the forwards going up the ice.
“We can’t pinpoint anybody out there.”