Everybody in the sold-out building sensed a crucial moment of the Stanley Cup finals when the New Jersey Devils got a two-man advantage early in a scoreless Game 3. The Devils threw every star and every scheme at the Los Angeles net, desperate for a power-play goal to turn around the series.
Jonathan Quick and his three penalty-killers coolly stopped everything, including the Devils' momentum.
Nothing has slowed down these Kings during one of the most spectacular playoff runs in NHL history — and now they are one win away from their Hollywood ending.
Quick made 22 saves in his third shutout of the postseason, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams each had a goal and an assist, and the Kings rolled to the brink of the franchise's first title, beating New Jersey 4-0 on Monday night to take a 3-0 series lead.
Alec Martinez scored the opening goal, and Jeff Carter and Williams added late power-play goals for the Kings, who improved to an astonishing 15-2 in the postseason.
"I don't think we're too surprised," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who has scored in every game of the finals. "We know we have a great team in here. Before this game, it easily could have been 2-0 for them. It is a tight series, but at the same time, we are really confident with the team we have in here."
And with good reason: The Western Conference's eighth-seeded team has jumped to a 3-0 lead in its fourth straight series — a feat never accomplished in NHL history before these seemingly charmed Kings steamrolled every opponent in their path.
Game 4 is Wednesday night at Los Angeles.
"We're almost where we're trying to go, but we haven't won anything yet," captain Dustin Brown said. "We know what we have a chance to do, though. Having an opportunity to win a championship here could get rid of a lot of frustration for a lot of people."
Martin Brodeur stopped 17 shots, but the Devils couldn't beat the impenetrable Quick or his penalty-killers, who turned aside six power plays — none bigger than a 60-second kill during 5-on-3 play late in the first period that left the Kings' fans standing and roaring.
"I think the (penalty-kill) was the difference in the game," Quick said.
The relative youngster in black has outplayed the 40-year-old Brodeur, and New Jersey must accomplish just the fourth comeback from an 0-3 series deficit in NHL playoff history to win its fourth title.
"It's not the best situation," Brodeur said. "It's probably the worst situation you could be in — no, it is the worst situation you could be in. But we believe in ourselves. We're going to compete as hard as we can, and the result will be there one way or another. ... We're just facing a team right now that's doing everything right."
The Devils had never lost three straight Stanley Cup finals games in the franchise's five appearances. New Jersey hadn't lost three straight games this season since late February.
New Jersey has been pretty good in the finals, but nothing has been able to slow down these Kings, who seem destined to become the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup.
"Before the series, we felt like this could happen, but we didn't think it would," Doughty said. "This was definitely our best game of the series. I thought they took it to us in the first period, but we got a lot better."
After opening their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 19 years with two overtime victories in New Jersey, the Kings relied on their penalty-killing in Game 3 after Carter took a 4-minute penalty for high-sticking Adam Henrique while Los Angeles already was short-handed. Los Angeles killed one minute of 5-on-3 play before Marek Zidlicky lopped two more minutes off the power play with a penalty of his own to prevent a breakaway by Mike Richards.
"We felt like the way we were playing, we were going to get one, but it just didn't happen," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "It's frustrating when everyone has been playing well, and we find ourselves down three-nothing."
The Kings could celebrate their first title at home, but their only weakness in this dynamic postseason has been Game 4. They're 10-0 on the road in the postseason, but failed to close out Vancouver and Phoenix at home in Game 4s.
No team has won the Cup with a sweep since Detroit wiped out Washington in the 1998 finals.
The Kings had to survive their early nerves from playing in front of their title-starved fans on Monday, and they barely hung on at times against the Devils' dynamic forechecking in the first two periods. They got another peerless performance from Quick, who has allowed just 24 goals in 17 playoff games — just two in the finals.
Los Angeles even got something from the power play that has been its weakest feature during the postseason, going 6 for 77 before a 2-for-2 effort in Game 3. Carter scored his sixth goal of the postseason on a splendid setup pass from Richards, his longtime teammate, early in the third period — and Williams followed 2:32 later with a slick goal in the slot, practically blowing the roof off the sold-out building.
Martinez scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period on a goalmouth scramble that Brodeur felt should have been whistled dead, and Kopitar followed about 10 minutes later with his third goal in four games off an impressive pass from Brown.
New Jersey largely controlled play before Martinez scored the game's first goal on a scramble in front of Brodeur, and the Devils repeatedly dominated puck possession. The Devils couldn't beat Quick, who might have nosed ahead in the derby for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP with another shutout.
The Devils again dominated the puck early in the second period, keeping it in Los Angeles' end for long stretches, but Quick made saves with everything from his blocker to his shoulder.
The Kings went ahead when Dwight King created a scoring chance with a big hit, eventually hacking at the puck underneath Brodeur's pad in front. Martinez joined the effort with Trevor Lewis and got credit for the goal when the puck finally trickled in, scoring his first goal in his 23rd career playoff game.
"I had the puck, I covered it with my stick, and the guy just pushed me," Brodeur said. "I think the referee was in the wrong position, so I guess it was tough for him to make the call."
Late in the period, Kopitar extended the lead on a stellar rush by the Kings' top line. Williams moved the puck into the zone and found Brown, who feathered a cross-ice pass to Kopitar for the Slovenian star's eighth goal of the postseason, giving Los Angeles its first two-goal lead since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
The Kings finally got their first power play early in the third period, and Carter found Brodeur's top shelf with a pass from Richards. Williams then caught the Devils' penalty-killers napping, and the celebration was on.
Staples Center was packed to the rafters well before Wayne Gretzky took the ice for the ceremonial opening faceoff. Los Angeles' long-suffering hockey fans hadn't seen a Stanley Cup finals game since Gretzky got them there in 1993, enduring two trips to the finals by the rival Anaheim Ducks in the previous decade while the Kings moved into their 44th season of play without a championship.
The Kings got another boost from the return of left wing Simon Gagne, who hadn't played since Dec. 26 while recovering from a concussion. Gagne is a seven-time 20-goal scorer in his first season in Los Angeles, carrying ample playoff experience from his decade with the Philadelphia Flyers, including a trip to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.
NOTES: The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win the Stanley Cup finals. The other 24 teams facing the deficit have lost the Cup. ... The crowd of 18,764 was the largest in Staples Center history for a Kings game. Hundreds of fans in black jerseys gathered in the plaza outside several hours before game time, chanting slogans and carrying inflatable Cup replicas. ... Gagne played just over 6 minutes on 10 shifts. ... Lakers forward Pau Gasol, David Boreanaz, LL Cool J, David Beckham and Penguins star Sidney Crosby attended the game.