Wayne Gretzky, the Los Angeles Kings’ special guest for Game 3 of the 2012 Stanley Cup final, holds or shares 61 NHL records, including 15 in the playoffs.
But for all the things Gretzky accomplished as a player, on a lot of exceptional teams, he was never part of something quite this unique.
The Kings, bidding for their first Stanley Cup championship in 45 years of existence, defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-0 Monday night, to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. In the process, they became the only team since the current best-of-seven playoff format was adopted in 1987 to go up 3-0 in every single series.
It just shouldn’t be this easy.
It shouldn’t be this one-sided.
It especially shouldn’t be this easy or one-sided for a Kings’ team that just barely squeezed into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference and drew the President Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round. But the Kings made short work of Vancouver, and have been ripping through the opposition ever since.
Can the Kings appreciate what they’re doing here, and how they’ve essentially set conventional NHL wisdom on its collective ear, with this amazing run?
“Not yet,” answered centre Jarret Stoll who, along with Matt Greene, did yeoman’s work to kill off a one-minute, five-on-three advantage back when it was still a game.
“To be honest with you, you can’t yet - because the second you do, you take your foot off the gas and you lose your focus and your mindset. You’ve got to keep looking ahead and improving every game. Hopefully, at the end of next game, we can be talking - and I’ll answer any question.
“But right now, our focus has always been so narrow and so straightforward on what we’ve got to do and how we’ve got to play. And that’s all we’re worried about.”
With Gretzky on hand to perform the ceremonial opening face-off, the Kings moved to 15-2 overall in these playoffs and can win the Stanley Cup on home ice Wednesday night.
To defenceman Willie Mitchell, who will be looking for the first Stanley Cup championship in his career, the trick is not looking too far ahead.
“Coach says it best - you get nothing for winning three,” said Mitchell. “The last one is always the toughest one. We’ve all been in this situation before as players.”
Los Angeles started slowly, and relied too heavily on Jonathan Quick’s exceptional goaltending for a little more than a period. Quick now has four total playoff shutouts, also a franchise record and has stopped 70-of-72 shots in the series.
From there, they pulled away - on goals by Alec Martinez, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams.
The Kings hadn’t scored a power-play goal practically since the last ice age - it was a stunningly bad 7.8 per cent in these playoffs going into the game, the only flaw on a stunning resume - but even that got going against the Devils, Carter and Williams both connecting with the man advantage in the third to turn a close game into a rout.
Martinez’s goal stood up as the winner and the Devils might have had an argument on that one. Quick whistles have been common in these playoffs, but on this play, goaltender Martin Brodeur appeared to have the puck frozen under his pad, waiting for the play to be blown dead. Instead, Dwight King got two whacks at it, then Trevor Lewis and then finally Martinez knocked it home.
“That’s a momentum-changing call at that time,” said Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer. “I hope he’s right. That’s an awful big call if you’re wrong.
“My opinion on it is, 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, if your intent is to blow it you lose sight of it. It should be a dead puck.
“I’d like to hear an explanation. I didn’t get that opportunity.”
Gretzky’s presence - and that of the glow sticks handed out at the Staples Centre - gave the game a retro, 1980s feel, and so did Kopitar’s back-breaking goal 15:07 into the second period. It was a goal scored on a actual rush, Williams making a behind-the-back pass to Dustin Brown on a three-on-two, Brown feeding a perfect cross-ice feed to Kopitar, Kopitar tipping it past the beleaguered Brodeur.
The Devils had no answers - not for Quick, not for Kopitar, not for L.A.’s exceptional penalty killing.
Every move that coach Darryl Sutter makes turns out to be the right one, it seems. For Monday’s game, he inserted Simon Gagne into the line-up for the first time since Dec. 26, replacing Brad Richardson on the fourth line. Traditionally, teams do not tamper with winning formulas under any circumstances, but Sutter was willing to put superstitions aside because he wanted more size on his fourth line. The move will make the popular 32-year-old Gagne eligible to get his name on the Stanley Cup if L.A. can finish the job.
Devils captain Zach Parise, who was one step behind on the back check on Kopitar’s goal, said frustration didn’t set it for his team until it was over.
“Even when we had our good opportunities I don’t think we were getting frustrated throughout the game,” said Parise. “I mean, it’s frustrating now when we come in here and we got shut out, but during the game we weren’t frustrated. We liked the way we were playing and we felt like we were going to get one, but it just didn’t happen.
“It’s frustrating when everyone’s been playing well and we find ourselves down three-nothing.”
That echoed comments made by Shane Doan (Phoenix); David Backes (St. Louis) and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver), who were also on the receiving end of the Kings’ bum rush.
For reasons that even they are having a hard time explaining, Los Angeles just looks unstoppable.
New Jersey hadn’t been out of the Eastern time zone since a mid-January trip to Winnipeg, and they may not want to venture out west any time soon.
Not if this is the sort of reception they’re going to get.