EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Dwight King has been living in a hotel since the Los Angeles Kings recalled him from the minors just over three months ago, and the playoff hero isn’t about to move out of his temporary digs.
He’s not tempting fate while the Kings are on the verge of exceeding his wildest dreams for his first NHL post-season run.
“It’s a dream,” King said Friday at the club training complex while Los Angeles recovered from its 2-1 victory in Game 3. “You want to be part of the Stanley Cup playoffs. To be a contributor is even better. Everything is coming around.”
Indeed, Los Angeles is on the brink of its second Stanley Cup final after leaping to a 3-0 lead over reeling Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. The eighth-seeded Kings are on an unbelievable 11-1 streak with eight consecutive wins in the post-season, outscoring their opponents 37-17 and winning the first three games in each of their first three series.
The Kings have almost grown leery of talking about their winning streak, a bit like the teammates of a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. Yet concrete accomplishment is just one win away: With a victory in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, the Kings finally would have another banner to hang next to the single division title and conference title banners forlornly decorating a small section of a wall at Staples Center.
“It’s a situation that we’re in that we have to embrace, still look to get better and improve,” centre Mike Richards said. “By no means is it going to be easy on Sunday.”
Los Angeles has joined Detroit (1995) and Edmonton (1983) as the only teams since 1980 to win 11 of their first 12 playoff games, and the Kings are just the third team in NHL history to lead each of its first three series 3-0.
But their practices and team meetings are filled with reminders from the coaching staff to focus on each day, each shift, each chance to improve, even while their long-suffering fans tentatively embrace the notion that maybe these Kings can do what no other Los Angeles team has ever done.
Forward Jeff Carter said it’s “a little bit” difficult not to think about the Stanley Cup final with just one win separating the Kings from that trip back East.
“We’re a confident group right now,” said Carter, who had a hat trick in Game 2. “We’re pretty comfortable with being in this position. We’ve done it the last two rounds here. The guys are confident. They’re relaxed. We’ll be ready to go.”
The workmanlike mentality installed by coach Darryl Sutter won’t allow any excitement about anything the Kings have almost accomplished, even among the large chunk of the Los Angeles roster that has never done anything like this for a franchise that won its only other conference title back in 1993, when King hadn’t yet turned 4 years old.
“Destiny? What is that?” Sutter said after Game 3.
Yet the Kings have only lost Game 4 of the first round against Vancouver. Detroit (1995) and Pittsburgh (2008) are the only other teams to start their first three series up 3-0, although neither won the Stanley Cup.
Kings defenceman Rob Scuderi was on that Penguins team, and he thinks the only problem created by that success can be long waits, such as the delay while Detroit wrapped up the West final before eventually winning the Cup.
“I remember sitting around for a while,” Scuderi said. “To be honest, I thought that team was just better than us that year. I thought they deserved it. I don’t think the time or layoff had anything to do with it. If you can’t get up for the Stanley Cup finals, you’re probably in the wrong field.”
Much of their success in the conference final is due to timely goal-scoring from King, who has outscored the Coyotes all by himself so far in the series (4-3).
King’s success on the third line isn’t completely surprising after he scored 24 goals in the AHL last season, but the Kings didn’t recall him to be an offensive powerhouse. The son of a truck driver and a secretary from Meadowlake, Saskatchewan, grew up emulating forwards Peter Forsberg and Todd Bertuzzi, but scored just five goals in 27 regular-season games since his February call-up along with Jordan Nolan, his fellow long-term hotel dweller.
“Right now, they’re going in,” King said with a shrug. “It feels pretty good.”
The Coyotes mostly took the day off Friday to recover from a narrow loss in which they likely played their best game of the series. After splitting the six-game season series with their Pacific Division rivals, Phoenix is just as impressed by the Kings’ surge as everybody else.
“They are good,” said forward Martin Hanzal, who will return for Game 4 after sitting out Thursday under suspension. “They have a great goalie. They have a great defence. They did something good, because they beat Vancouver, St. Louis and us 3-0, but we’ve still got a chance.”
Defenceman Adrian Aucoin also is hoping to return for Game 4 after missing the first three games of the conference finals with an injury.
“If you look at the 3-0, there’s not much hope, but we’ve done some good things still,” Aucoin said.
The Coyotes are taking the same mentality used by Vancouver and St. Louis in those clubs’ dire circumstances against the Kings. If Phoenix can limit each of Los Angeles’ balanced lines, if the Coyotes can cajole and screen Jonathan Quick into a poor performance, if they can somehow shift the series momentum hanging heavily in Los Angeles’ favour, a win in Game 4 would lead to a trip home and the possibility of a wholesale comeback.
“We can’t just roll over and let them take us,” centre Kyle Chipchura said. “There’s a lot of pride on the line. We don’t want to get swept. We’re going to fight until the end.”