If any team knows what it’s like to be down and counted out in a series, it’s these Los Angeles Kings.
Their postseason nearly was a washout in the first round against a very good San Jose team, as the Sharks won three straight and the hockey world was ready to anoint them a contender.
The Kings came roaring back, however, for one of the four 0-3 comebacks in NHL history.
It goes without saying the Kings don’t want to see another one here in the final, with the New York Rangers searching desperately for their first win in Wednesday’s Game 4.
"We’ve been on the other side of that so we know,” Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell said. “The team on the other side is just going to focus on tonight’s game and try to get the outcome they want. They do that, they’re going to get some confidence and some momentum. We dealt with that with Chicago [coming back in the third round]… all of a sudden the hill became much tougher to climb.”
"We can’t let them back in this series,” teammate Drew Doughty added. “We need to win tonight."
New York’s “hill” here looks a bit like Mount Everest. They were underdogs to begin with and haven’t really had any breaks in the series, with the Kings scoring two overtime winners in the first two games at home and then getting a marvelous Game 3 from netminder Jonathan Quick in a 3-0 shutout.
There’s an argument to be made the series should be 2-1 given the balance of play. But it’s not – and most of the folks in the media gathered at Madison Square Garden for the morning skates were of the opinion the Cup will in fact be given out Wednesday night.
FiveThirtyEight had a good piece after Game 3 about the likelihood of a Rangers comeback, and they had the chances well down in the single digits. Historically speaking, teams in this position in the final are 25-1, with only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs making the comeback.
Only six of those 26 teams down 3-0 won Game 4, meaning nearly 80 per cent of the time winning the first three games has become a sweep.
Even if we’re kind and give New York a 50-per-cent chance of winning the remaining games, you’re looking at about a 6-per-cent shot of winning four in a row.
In the dressing room, the Rangers’ belief level is pretty low right now; the Kings’ is sky high. But the difference between winning and losing in this series hasn’t been a whole lot, and that’s something New York has tried to build on the last two days.
Coming back in the series looks just about impossible.
Winning one game, at home? That’s doable.
“We’re back at work,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said matter-of-factly. “We had a good meeting this morning. We’re getting ready for a good hockey game tonight.”
“You don't want to give them any confidence whatsoever,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a tighter series than the series [record] indicates. This game’s a funny game that way. You get two great teams at this point and sometimes when momentum’s kind of going with you, the wind is at your back. It can switch in a hurry.
“You give light and they’ll take that light and there will be much more light at the end of it. We have to try and stay focused.”
That doesn’t appear it’ll be a problem.