EL SEGUNDO, CA — It’s so close, they can almost touch it. But just the same, they would rather keep it at a distance, at least until they earn the right to talk about it openly.
“It” is the Stanley Cup, the most revered and coveted trophy in professional team sports, and with a win today in Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings can advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for just the second time in franchise’s nearly 45-year history.
The Kings have a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series, having won the first three games, and can complete a series sweep of the Coyotes, who have been badly outplayed in just about every aspect of the game in Games 1-3.
For a team that has breezed through the Stanley Cup Playoffs with an 11-1 record so far, it would be easy for overconfidence or complacency to creep into their collective psyche, and the Kings have not exactly had a great reputation in recent years in terms of their mental toughness.
But all that seems to have changed for the better.
“We’re trying to focus the same way we did in those other games [when they eliminated the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, and the St. Louis Blues in the second round],” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “We need to come out there as if we’re down a couple games in the series.”
“We know that they’re going to play their best game,” added Doughty. “We need our best game, too. It’s going to be the toughest one for us. They’re going to come out hard in the first five minutes, try to push us away. We have to make sure it’s our best game in the series.”
Doughty has made pretty much the same comment during the first and second rounds. But team captain Dustin Brown focused more closely on the Coyotes.
“I’ve said this about Phoenix, not only this year, but the last few years, they’re a pretty tight, resilient group,” he stressed. “Considering they’re the Pacific Division champs this year, they’ve battled through a lot of things. I don’t know if they’ve been this [deep] in a hole, but they’ve showed character all year. It’s going to be no different [on Sunday].”
“I think they’re a practical group,” he added. “They’re going to come out with everything they’ve got.”
Although the tradition in hockey is to never look past the next game, or the one you’re currently playing, those thoughts are not easily avoided at this point in the playoffs. Despite that, the Kings seem to understand the need to keep their skates planted firmly on the ice.
“I think the biggest mindset for us right now is to finish this series,” said veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. “You get up 3-0, everyone starts looking ahead. I think one of the good things that this team has is we’ve been able to stay grounded and focused on what we have to do, and that’s to hopefully finish out the Phoenix Coyotes sooner rather than later.”
“[We] just [have to keep doing the] same thing we’ve been doing,” added Scuderi. “We’ve been preparing ourselves well. We’ve executed our game plan very well over the course of these playoffs. If we stick to that, take it one period, one shift at a time, I like our chances.”
“It’s tough not to think ahead,” said Doughty. “But at the same time, it’s easy because all you’re thinking about is that next game. We know we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’re not even close to being there yet.”
Brown had another reason for the Kings not getting ahead of themselves.
“At this point of the year, I mean, you’re looking,” said Brown. “Everyone talks about getting to the Stanley Cup Finals. But I think, as players, especially for myself, I can only speak for myself, playing in that game tomorrow night is pretty fun, as well. It’s one of the things, you really have to enjoy the journey.”
“We’re one game away from the Cup Final,” added Brown. “But again, it’s one game we have to win. Like I said, these games that we’re playing in, it’s not like they’re aren’t fun to play in.”
Brown’s teammates would do well to heed his sage advice.
2012 Western Conference Final, Phoenix Coyotes vs. Los Angeles Kings, Game 3 Highlights, May 17, 2012
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Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home playoff games against the Phoenix Coyotes – May 20, 6:00 PM (Coyotes vs. Kings: Game 4); May 24, TBD (Coyotes vs. Kings: Game 6 – if necessary), are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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