Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/19/12
LOS ANGELES In six weeks, the Los Angeles Kings have evolved from Clowed-out to close-out. They are in the process of putting to rest many of the intangibles that have been inflicted upon the organization since Jacques Demers called Kerry Fraser to his bench with 1:45 remaining in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. From the suspect goaltending spread over so many seasons, injuries to Ziggy Palffy, Adam Deadmarsh and Jason Allison, even to Ray Bourque swatting Glen Murray's shorthanded chance out of mid-air in 2001, it's interesting that their increasingly historic run was born out of that bizarre Ryane Clowe incident. Since suffering a shootout loss and an overtime loss to San Jose in the final two games of the regular season games in which the Kings uncharacteristically allowed four power play goals they have taken three consecutive 3-0 series leads over their three division-winning playoff opponents. Los Angeles had never taken a 3-0 series lead in the 44 seasons prior to this year, yet when Jonathan Quick leads his team onto the ice Sunday afternoon at STAPLES Center, he will have a pair of Game 4 home close-out chances to draw experience from. Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series against Vancouver still stands as the Kings' lone loss of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. One of three consecutive games in which Cory Schneider limited Los Angeles to one regulation goal, the playoff understudy turned aside a Dustin Brown penalty shot while protecting a one-goal third period lead, setting up Henrik Sedin's insurance tally 22 seconds later. He turned in a first star performance by stopping 43 shots in a game that could have swung either way but was decided when the Canucks scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the second period to erase a one-goal L.A. lead "Actually, I thought we played better than we did in the last game," Darryl Sutter said on April 18. "The difference was 22's and 33's performance," he continued, referencing Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Kings were better at playing with the lead in a tense Game 4 against St. Louis in the conference semifinals on May 6. Though Kevin Shattenkirk equalized for the Blues midway through the first period after an early Jordan Nolan goal, Dustin Brown's crisp wristshot buzzed past Brian Elliott with 1:43 remaining in the period, and his empty netter late in the third ended another a game that like the previous Game 4 could have swung in either direction. Jonathan Quick, called upon to be better than his counterpart Elliott, was aided by Anze Kopitar's slick backchecking when David Perron's attempt to stuff in the rebound of a Ryan Russell shot was snuffed out just in front of the goalline. "Right now we're just playing with confidence. Everybody trusts everything that each other's doing. We're playing it one shift at a time," Quick said after the win. "We're not thinking about games in the past, we're not thinking about games in the future. We're just thinking about the shift that you're about to do, and that's it." Along with their overtime Game 5 win in Vancouver on April 22, Los Angeles is 2-1 in its three close-out games and understands it will have its hands full with a more complete and desperate Phoenix team that will welcome size, skill and toughness back to its lineup in defenseman Adrian Aucoin and center Martin Hanzal. The Coyotes were beaten soundly in the center of the ice Thursday night, and if Hanzal's pivot can reignite Ray Whitney and spur production out of Radim Vrbata, who has one even strength playoff goal, the Coyotes stand their best chance of channeling some momentum in this series. The three were skating on a line together for the first time since Game 1, according to the Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan. "Same thing we saw the first game, last game," Sutter said of what he expects out of Phoenix in Game 4. "There's no difference when you're down in a series, right? You're going to get the same thing as we got in the first period, last game, for sure. I mean, that's logical, right? I mean, if I was those guys, I'd be doing the same thing. So expect that." While there are those who have already penned the team into the Stanley Cup Finals and have begun thinking about hypothetical matchups, those people do not reside in the Kings' locker room. Sturdied by the experience of players who have won the Cup, such as Justin Williams, Rob Scuderi, Dustin Penner and Colin Fraser, and those who have come within one or two games Matt Greene, Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter the entire unit appears entirely focused on Sunday's efforts, rather than any larger picture. "I think the biggest mindset for us right now is to finish this series. You get up 3-0, and everyone starts looking ahead," Scuderi said. "I think one of the good things that this team has had is we've been able to stay grounded and focused on what we have to do, and that's to hopefully close out the Phoenix Coyotes sooner rather than later."
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