By Allan Muir
It's funny how kids think. Last night in our garage, my son was in the middle of rifling wristers past my weak excuse for a glove hand when he asked an odd, but fitting, question: "What did they do with all the champagne the Kings had waiting in their dressing room?"
Honestly, I didn't know the answer. I'm guessing they packed it up with the equipment and the skate sharpener and the soccer ball and brought it all back to Los Angeles.
Which is where they'll probably need it.
The Kings should be feeling pretty good about their chances to uncork the bubbly tonight (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), even after their Game 4 loss. Especially after their Game 4 loss.
Outside of a final score that favored the other guys, the Kings put together a nearly flawless game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. There was no let-up like the one in their Game 4 against New Jersey back in 2012. No easing up on the throttle. Just a grimly determined effort to deliver the death blow. To put the Rangers out of their misery quickly and efficiently.
How good were the Kings?
Kings-Rangers Game 4 recap | Lundqvist the hero | Box score | Highlights | Gallery
They lit 'em up on the shot clock, 41-19, limiting the Rangers to just six shots after Martin St. Louis gave New York a 2-0 lead at 6:27 of the second period. They Corsi'd the crap out of the Bluehshirts, 71-38. They crushed 'em in the face-off circles, 41-24. They stayed on top of the puck like it owed them money, spending the better part of the night in the Rangers zone, owning the walls and the back boards and the slot.
The only thing that separated the Kings from a sweep was a truly remarkable performance by Rangers 'keeper Henrik Lundqvist, the right hand of Derek Stepan, and a magical miniature snowdrift that packed the stopping power of a highway spike strip.
It was total domination.
So, what do the Kings change coming into Game 5?
In fact, the real challenge they face tonight isn't from a desperate band of Rangers looking to drag the Kings back to New York with them. Ir'a raising their own intensity from Game 4.
"I don't like the way the goals were scored against us," coach Darryl Sutter said on Thursday. "[The first] was basically right after a penalty, a penalty that we didn't have to take after winning a face-off. The second one was obviously losing a battle at the net."
Fair enough. The Kings, and especially goalie Jonathan Quick, didn't give New York much of an offensive sniff in Game 4. To their credit, the Rangers capitalized on two of their best chances.
The Kings' coach also wants to see more finish. "You got to score three goals to win," he said. "I know some don't agree, but it's true. I've been in it long enough. You got to score three goals to win, [otherwise] you're pushing it."
Easy to see where that starts: a more aggressive net presence to make life miserable for Lundqvist. The Kings are getting plenty of shots--they've peppered Lundqvist with 40-or-more in three of the four contests--but he's too comfortable as they come in. L.A. needs to change that.
It would also help if a couple of the Kings' top guns got off the schneid. That starts with Anze Kopitar, the all-world center who needs a reminder that goal scoring is part of a complete game. The erstwhile Conn Smythe candidate has lit the lamp once in his last 18 games and is goalless in 11, his longest drought of the season. Tyler Toffoli has been brilliant at times, but he's scoreless in this series. Drew Doughty, so dominant against the Blackhawks, is pointless in three. And Tanner Pearson, easily L.A.'s most dangerous player in Game 4, is scoreless in six.
Each of these players has made a significant contribution to help the Kings build their 3-1 series lead, but each has more to give. And a little bit more tonight may be all it takes to get the job done.
After all, they don't want to have to cart all that champagne back to New York.