NEW YORK – As it turns out, the Los Angeles Kings can play pretty well with a lead.
After spending the entirety of two games trailing or tied with the New York Rangers – before winning a pair of thrillers in overtime – the Kings decided to take the decidedly less dramatic route in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.
They cruised to a 3-0 win and now sit just one victory away from their second Stanley Cup championship in three years. They'll go for the sweep on Wednesday night.
If they can jump out to an early lead like they did Monday, this series could be over quite quickly.
With eight-tenths of a second remaining in the first period, Kings forward Justin Williams found a streaking Jeff Carter, who beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for the goal.
BOX SCORE: Kings 3, Rangers 0
KINGS: Quick comes up big
"It was a big boost," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "And it was more of a damper on them. They were about to go into their dressing room thinking it was going to be 0-0; now, the Kings are up 1-0.
"It gave us a little momentum, and we ran with it the rest of the game."
After the buzzer-beater to end the first period, the Kings added a Jake Muzzin power-play goal early in the second.
The Rangers attempted to counter with a flurry of second-period shots – 17 in that frame alone – but Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was simply too good. Quick tallied 32 saves to secure the shutout. His performance Monday was a bit of a masterpiece, complete with highlight reel stick saves. And more important, it was reminiscent of 2012 -- when Quick went 16-4 with three shutouts and a 1.41 goals-against average en route to winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy.
A few early saves "just tells us Quickie's going to stop everything back there, so let's get a few goals for our team," Doughty said.
And that's what the Kings did.
They added a third with three minutes left in the second period, a Mike Richards insurance goal that provided Quick with an even larger cushion to work with – not that he needed it.
As the Rangers showed Monday, not every team is capable of mounting a comeback quite like the Kings.
"We've had to play from behind so often, and that's what everyone is talking about," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "But if you look at our record with leads after two (periods), I think we've lost maybe three or four games in four or five years. We're a very good team when we get ahead."
Or, as coach Darryl Sutter, a man of few words, described the outrageous idea of playing with a lead: "We're used to it."
Though the Kings have been on both ends of sensational comebacks – they watched a 3-1 series lead against the Blackhawks last round evaporate – they've cautioned themselves not to let up. They plan on doing exactly what's gotten them here as they prepare for Wednesday's Game 4, where they'll go for the first sweep in a Stanley Cup Final since 1998.
They'll rely on their unsung hero of a goaltender. They'll rely on their mental toughness. They'll rely on each other, the deep roster full of playmakers who have stepped up at critical times this postseason.
"That's how you win championships," Doughty said. "I know we haven't won it yet, but that's how you get to the point we're at now."
"We need our whole team."
2014 STANLEY CUP FINAL