Los Angeles Kings left wing Dustin Penner (25) collides with New Jersey Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky (2) in the first period during Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals, Monday, June 4, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Greatness is beckoning the Los Angeles Kings. One more game like this one and they'll be crowned Stanley Cup champions in a stunning fashion.
"If we win one more game, I hope the San Andreas Fault can take it," forward Dustin Penner said Monday after a 4-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils.
All signs point to the trophy being taken out of its case at Staples Center on Wednesday night. The Kings hold a 3-0 series lead for the fourth time this post-season—a feat no NHL team has ever managed—and haven't shown even the briefest sign of weakness all spring.
The victory in Game 3 was clinical and thorough. It struck like a dagger through the hearts of the Devils.
"We're playing a team that's doing everything right right now," said veteran New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur. "And it's hard."
Jonathan Quick continued his otherworldly play Monday by stopping 22 shots and the Kings killed all six penalties they were assessed. That included a crucial 5-on-3 that lasted 59 seconds in the first period, when the score was still 0-0 and the Devils had a chance to get their first real burst of momentum in the final.
During that penalty kill, the puck ended up on the end of Ilya Kovalchuk's dangerous stick but Quick kicked out his pad to make a big save.
It appears as though New Jersey shares something in common with each of the Kings previous three opponents—they have no answer for Quick, who is a slam dunk selection to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
"What can you say about Jonathan Quick, too? He's been a rock this year, the whole playoffs," said teammate Justin Williams.
Alec Martinez opened the scoring at 5:40 of the second period immediately after Quick denied David Clarkson on a dangerous opportunity. Teammate Dwight King got four whacks at a puck that was lodged under Martin Brodeur's pads before Martinez finally knocked it into the net—a play the Devils goaltender felt should have been blown dead.
"That's a momentum-changing call at the time," said New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer. "I hope (the referee) is right. That's an awful big call if you're wrong."
It was the only goal the Kings would need.
Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Williams went on to beat Brodeur as Los Angeles flexed its muscles and showed the form of a champion. Kopitar's goal came off the rush and was a thing of beauty, with Williams finding Dustin Brown with a drop pass before Brown put the puck on Kopitar's stick.
"I didn't want to waste any time," Kopitar said.
That made it 2-0 heading to the third period. Carter and Williams each scored on power plays in the final 20 minutes, improving virtually the only part of the Kings' game that has been lacking.
It's a great time to be a hockey fan in Los Angeles.
Wayne Gretzky dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff on a night when the stars came out—David Beckham, Tom Arnold and Mary Hart were all among the sellout crowd, as was Sidney Crosby. And the building was rocking for the first Stanley Cup final game in the city since Gretzky's Kings faced Montreal in 1993.
Los Angeles is clearly warming to a team that appears destined to claim its first ever championship.
"We turned this thing around this year," Kopitar said. "You want to win for the fans, of course. We'd like to win it for ourselves, too, because some of us haven't done it yet."
Perhaps the only question still hanging over the Kings is how did this team nearly miss the playoffs?
They've ruthlessly picked apart Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and now the Devils after finishing as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Los Angeles sports a 15-2 record in these playoffs and has a chance to match the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the most dominant run through a post-season if it can finish off a sweep of the Devils.
"I think any team that does well in playoffs is going to have certain things," said Williams, a Stanley Cup winner with Carolina in 2006. "They're going to have a goaltender playing extremely well. You're going to have everybody firing on all cylinders. You're going to have a healthy lineup. You're going to have great coaching.
"All those things together make a team successful in the playoffs."
New Jersey looks like a team that doesn't know what hit it.
During six power-play opportunities in Game 3 they barely threatened to score—and found a brick wall in Quick on their few quality chances. Kovalchuk and Zach Parise haven't even registered a point in the series.
"You've got to find a way to score goals," Clarkson said. "We've been putting the puck on the net. Like I said we've been working hard ... and we're going to continue to push. We're not done yet."
They might be the only ones who believe that.
As time ticked down in Game 3, Kings fans confidently chanted "We want the Cup!" and there's every reason to believe the wish will be granted soon. There was a celebratory feeling in the air all night. A pre-game video montage showed pictures of the Los Angeles players as children and ended with the message: "This is the moment."
It's their moment, all right. And right now the big stage is theirs and theirs alone.
"We're close, but we have another hard one to go," Williams said.
Notes: Simon Gagne dressed for the Kings in his first game since suffering a concussion on Dec. 26 ... The Kings have killed 47 of the last 49 penalties they've taken ... Los Angeles could become the ninth different team in as many seasons to win the Stanley Cup ... Announced attendance was 18,764.