Kings focused on getting one more win, not fatigue
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- So much for jet lag and recovering from a cross-country flight in preparation for an NHL record-tying 26th Stanley Cup Playoff game for the Los Angeles Kings. A handful of regulars took the ice Thursday despite arriving back in Los Angeles at 3 a.m. local time.
The flight from New York?
"I had a good Chilean sea bass," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "It was good. It was great, actually."
The Kings were in a calm, confident and somewhat playful mood one day after they narrowly missed winning the Cup for the second time in three seasons in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. They take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series into Game 5 on Friday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
The Kings know how close they came to a sweep.
Los Angeles executed its best third period of the series, yet came up short. It will have to reach into the well again to finish a long playoff road that began April 17. That well seems to be bottomless: Game 5 will be the Kings' 26th playoff game this spring. Only the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers and 2004 Calgary Flames, also led by Kings coach Darryl Sutter, have played as many as 26 games in a single postseason.
Stoll and his teammates didn't buy much into the long grind, at least publicly.
"You got to realize what you're playing for, who you're playing, what it's all about and why you play the game," Stoll said. "This is why you play the game. It doesn't matter how many games you play. You got energy, you got jump -- you should [if] you realize what you're playing for. Yeah, it's a lot of games. But it's why we play."
Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, Jake Muzzin, Marian Gaborik and captain Dustin Brown chose to skate Thursday so they could skip the skate Friday morning. Energy management has become vital for the Kings, who sprinted to the 2012 Cup in 20 games, meaning this spring they will basically play the equivalent of an extra playoff series compared to their first Cup run.
"It's been long, but it's good," rookie forward Tyler Toffoli said. "You want to be playing this time of year. To be here is pretty surreal, but it's time to keep staying focused and just win."
There is also an off-ice element to push aside. In 2012, the Kings had a chance to clinch the Cup at home against the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 but got distracted by ticket requests and other off-ice matters. On Wednesday, it was similar because a lot of family members, girlfriends and wives were on hand for the potential celebration in New York.
The Kings said they are better-prepared to avoid being distracted from their ultimate goal.
"I guess practice makes perfect, but I think everyone's more equipped now or more ready for it, more aware of what the distractions are and how they can present themselves and what you need to do to push them out of the way," center Mike Richards said. "I thought everyone did a good job [in Game 4], to be honest with you. I thought everyone was ready for the game. We just, for whatever reason, whether it was nerves, that first 15-20 minutes wasn't the best of our season, which it probably should have been."
Though he wasn't with the Kings in 2012, Toffoli has also moved past the distractions.
"I'm done worrying about that. I just want to play," he said. "I think everybody's in the same boat as me."
After getting two pucks onto the goal line in Game 4, the Kings talked about needing to be more physical in the blue paint, as well as improving on the forecheck. They have put 40 or more shots on goal in three of the four games in the Cup Final, but Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist responded to Jonathan Quick's Game 3 shutout with his best game of the series.
Sutter deflected a question about being able to win the Cup on home ice again, as did his players. That ties into the laser-like focus that has kept the Kings going through 25 games. They don't want to enjoy Chilean sea bass or any other fine sky dining again this season.
"I have confidence in this team in every aspect and every facet of hockey," Williams said. "We'll be ready. We know what's at stake. We don't want to go back there. It's a long plane ride.
"Just win -- that's with a big period and exclamation point after it. I don't care where it is. Win one more."
Author: Curtis Zupke | NHL.com Correspondent