Early penalty kill, led by third-line center, puts Kings on brink of Cup
LOS ANGELES -- In the 2012 Stanley Cup highlight film in a city that loves its movies, Game 3 will be a remake of the 1985 Bond opus, "A View to a Kill."
In the 007 role, No. 28.
Jarret Stoll, No. 28, is an unconventional leading man. On a team with the dangling Anze Kopitar, the dashing Drew Doughty and the impenetrable Jonathan Quick, Stoll is the kind of guy who customarily dies in the second reel. At most, the Stoll role would merit no more than a best supporting actor nomination. Win faceoffs. Lead the penalty kill. Occasionally score a goal. Chew up some time on the clock, but don't chew the scenery.
But sometimes even the third-line center better be ready for his close-up. With the Kings' penalty-box cavalcade, Los Angeles needed someone to do the heavy lifting early in Game 3.
The 4-0 thumping that moved the Kings to within one game of the first Stanley Cup in franchise history belies the fact that Los Angeles staggered early with penalty trouble. Now the degree of discomfort might be debated given the wonky Devils power play. New Jersey, with an apparently ailing and certainly ineffectual Ilya Kovalchuk manning the point, managed just three shots in 9:01 of power-play time, including 59 seconds of five-on-three.
The biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are commonly known as Conquest, War, Famine and Death, but in Los Angeles they go by the names of Stollie, Greenie, Mitchie and, finally, Ricky. (On your program they are called Stoll, Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell and Mike Richards.) Now a first-period five-on-three might not seem like the hockey Apocalypse given the final score, but it could have been the end of the world until the first three worthies and, later, Richards stabilized the Kings.
With Richards already in the penalty box for elbowing, linemate Jeff Carter attempted some inadvertent Sherwood cosmetic surgery on the face of Devils center Adam Henrique, a high-sticking double minor that led to the first five-on-three of the final.
This could have become as ugly as freeway traffic.
But three of the horsemen played the single most inspired minute in what until that moment, despite two overtime games, had been a desultory Stanley Cup finals. Green and Mitchell, the defensemen, and Stoll, an indefatigable center, protected Quick, their goalie, the way a troll guards his bridge. New Jersey moved the puck decently enough, but the Kings kept getting a stick or a leg in the way, interrupting the Devils' rhythm and timing. New Jersey managed to put just one shot through on Quick, who has stopped 70 of 72 shots in the final.
Liberated with 3:25 left in the period, Richards made it a penalty-killing quartet, jumping right into the spirit of things. He blocked a pass from Devils point man Marek Zidlicky and took one stride past the defenseman. Zidlicky had no choice but to trip Richards, negating most of the rest of the man-advantage. The work by the group, especially Stoll, might not have been as heroic as Henrik Zetterberg's 86 seconds worth of three-on-five shot-blocking artistry for Detroit against Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the 2008 final, but it was exceptional.
"Maybe it's deflating a bit; I don't know how they feel about it," said Stoll, who would win 10 of 15 faceoffs and bump Kovalchuk off the puck and clear it during a Kings' kill. "They played a pretty good game. They came at us, came at us good. We had to withstand a lot of pressure ... it's battling. It's doing anything possible to keep the puck out of your net. You just have to find a way. We just didn't want to give up quality one-timers from the slot. We knew where the one-timers were. That's how you have to play that. You gotta have it in your head where those shots are and where they're not. We did a good job, the three of us, keeping them to the outside a little bit and forcing them to make saucer passes. That gave us time to regroup.
"It's not something you work on much in practice. You watch a lot of video on it, and you talk a lot about it. At the (whiteboard) during intermissions, during video sessions, you talk a lot about what they want. It's no secret. It's guys with big one-timers. Some guys are passers. Some guys are shooters. You have to know who those guys are. You just play the percentages there and hope for the best."
The scoreless escape from the first period seemed to settle the Kings, playing in front of a soporific (albeit record Staples Center) crowd of 18,764 that must have been texting through the first 20 minutes because it rarely seemed to be using its hands to, you know, applaud.
Anyway, Stoll buzzed in the second period even if the fans did not. He kept the puck alive in the Devils defensive zone, creating a sequence that allowed Dwight King to keep banging at the puck in Devils goalie Martin Brodeur's crease. The puck seemed frozen under Brodeur's pad, but neither Dan O'Halloran nor Brad Watson saw fit to blow the whistle, much to the chagrin of Brodeur, who made his feelings known to the referees during a timeout, and coach Peter DeBoer, who did not hide his displeasure at a post-match news conference. DeBoer thought that with the puck out of sight -- at least it was hidden until defenseman Alec Martinez nudged the puck into the net with 14:20 remaining in the second period -- a whistle should have blown.
"Yeah, that's a momentum-changing call at the time," DeBoer said. "I hope he's right. That's an awful big call if you're wrong. My opinion on it, as soon as you lose sight of the puck, the whistle's supposed to go. Even if you don't get it to your mouth, your intent is to blow it when you lose sight. Should be a dead puck, so ... I'd like to hear an explanation for it. I didn't get that opportunity."
The Kings took their first two-goal lead in the final some 10 minutes later on a late-developing three-on two. Dustin Brown, coming off perhaps his poorest two games of the playoffs in Newark, made an eye-of-the-needle feed to Kopitar, hustling up the left flank. Kopitar whipped the puck past Brodeur, displaying the kind of finish that had been in short supply during the first two-thirds of the regular season in which the Kings would finish 29th overall in NHL scoring.
Finally given man-advantage opportunities of their own, the Kings cashed two in the third period within three minutes. Mitchell blocked a Devils clearing attempt that Carter, who had the overtime winner in Game 2, flipped past Brodeur off a Richards feed. Then with Zidlicky off for high sticking, Justin Williams followed his own greasy rebound for the fourth goal with 13:13 left, drawing the front-running crowd out of its seats and its stupor.
"I think the P.K. was the difference in the game," Quick said of a penalty kill that has allowed just five goals in 69 playoff chances. "I don't think they really got an opportunity in the first two periods."
The Devils have one final shot at the pixie-dust Kings on Wednesday, a Sisyphean task that has been completed three times. (The '42 Leafs, '75 Islanders and '10 Flyers all came back from 3-0 playoff deficits to win a series.)
If not ... well the Kings can remake the 1968 Peter Sellers flick -- "The Party."