Kings keeping foot on the gas


NEW YORK -- Well, you could certainly tell the teams apart on this day; the New York Rangers in a gloomy mood, the Los Angeles Kings having so much fun during their "two-touch" soccer game that Jonathan Quick even jumped on a nearby forklift and honked the horn.

Yes, Jonathan Quick was smiling!

But do not confuse that with a club that thinks this is over.

They were in this exact spot two years ago, comfortably up 3-0 in the Stanley Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils, one victory away from the trophy presentation they dreamed about as kids.

And the Kings let those dreams enter their thoughts just a little too soon. With retrospect, they now admit that they let their guard down as Cup-clinching plans and preparations with friends and family were allowed in the conversation prematurely.

"There was a lot of distraction," Kings coach Darryl Sutter conceded Tuesday. "I think that was a lesson learned, not just for our players but for our whole organization. We were trying to keep our players as a little inner circle, which they still do. But the circle got a little bit of infringement."

In reality, organizations on the verge of winning a Cup have to go about these plans regardless, but it's clear this time around that the Kings are trying to keep their players insulated a bit more from the process.

There's still hockey to play. And the New York Rangers aren't going to go away quietly.

"I think potentially, maybe not everyone, but there were some issues that maybe got us sidetracked a little bit," veteran Kings winger Justin Williams said Tuesday on the eve of Game 4, recalling being in this spot in 2012. "The thought of winning a Cup, being one game away, family issues, ticket issues, all that stuff. That can maybe sidetrack you from the end result. We've got the rest of our lives to see our friends and family, make sure they have tickets and all that. We have, you know, usually one chance, and this is our second chance to do it, to win a Stanley Cup, to be remembered forever. That had a little bit to do with it.

"Obviously, New Jersey not wanting to go away quietly, and they certainly didn't. They made us earn it. We expect the Rangers are going to do the exact same.''

Of course, the Kings won the Cup in 2012, escaping the Devils with a 4-2 series win. And if there's any team in the NHL that won't take it easy up 3-0, it's the team that was down 3-0 just seven weeks ago.

"It wasn't easy for us to come back from 3-0 in the first series against San Jose," stud blueliner Drew Doughty said Tuesday. "We know how it can happen. All it takes is one game, one momentum shift; the team can run with it, the other team can be down in the dumps.

"That's why this next game is so important for us. We can't let them back into the series. We have to take it to them. They're going to have their best effort without a doubt, and we need to have ours as well."

Two years ago, this was all new to the Kings. Other than the odd Cup winner on their roster such as Williams or Rob Scuderi, they really didn't have much know-how as to how you close out a team in order to get Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame to get that shiny trophy out of its case.

This time around, they have that knowledge. And one swears you could see it on their faces Tuesday. They know how to go for the jugular this time around, and that's the plan Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

"I can't wait to get out there," said Doughty, almost frothing at the mouth. "It kind of sucks that the game is at 8 p.m., waiting around during the day. You just want to get out there. You don't want to get overanxious at the same time.

"But it's fun to play in these types of games. When the pressure's at a high, you just want to go out there, play your best as a team, win games. Yeah, I just can't wait to get out there, get warm-ups over there, drop the first puck."

Lord Stanley is in the building Wednesday. Nothing else needs to be said.