LOS ANGELES - The New Jersey Devils believe they can overcome a 3-0 deficit against the juggernaut Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup final. They have to, don't they?
But with apologies to head coach Peter DeBoer and his Eastern Conference champs, after the Kings 4-0 win in Game 3 on Monday the only trophy with any intrigue left to present is the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The playoff MVP hardware likely will be awarded to either Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick or Anze Kopitar or even Drew Doughty, but if there ever was a group that has represented an ultimate team it has been Darryl Sutter's eighth-seeded bunch.
Quick has been outstanding. In front of Wayne Gretzky and the record crowd of 18,764 at the Staples Center, he made 22 saves for his third shutout of the 2012 playoffs. He lowered his goals against average to 1.36 and raised his save percentage to a microscopic .950. He has put up the best numbers in 73 years since Boston Bruins netminder Frank Brimsek's 1.25 goals against average in 12 games in 1939.
Kopitar, meanwhile, has been so good in both ends of the rink. It's easy to point to his team-leading eight goals and 18 points in 17 games as a factor in the Kings being on the verge of their first championship in their 45-year history. But ask any member of the Los Angeles defence and they will praise Kopitar's diligent work around the Kings goal.
Doughty has been dynamic. He's made some highlight plays and leads all defencemen in the playoffs with 13 points. He also has looked good beside his partner Rob Scuderi as the Kings shutdown defence tandem.
And that's exactly the challenge with trying to single out a player on the Kings, who with a win on Wednesday would be the first team to sweep a final since the Detroit Red Wings swept the Washington Capitals in 1998. Doughty would not be as good as he's been in this two-month odyssey without Scuderi.
The No. 1 line of Kopitar, captain Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, which combined for two goals on Monday, would not be as productive if the defence did not stand up so well to the opposition at the blue line. This has enabled the Los Angeles forwards to poach the puck on the back check and transition the other way for scoring chances.
The Kings penalty-killing unit also has been a big factor. Led by Kings assistant coach John Stevens, Los Angeles has gone a perfect 12-for-12 and 64-of-69 for the entire postseason and has been a big reason why the Kings, with a win on Wednesday, could match the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers for the best playoff record at 16-2.
Scuderi and fellow defencemen Matt Greene, Doughty and especially Willie Mitchell as well as forwards Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter - not to mention Quick - have been so good on the man-disadvantage situations.
"We gained some momentum off our kill [on Monday]," Mitchell said. "But you don't have a PK that good without a good goaltender. We all know that."
So maybe Quick is the man for the Conn Smythe. There have been occasions when the opposition has hemmed the Kings in their own end and Quick has kept his teammates in the game.
This certainly was the case in Game 3. With the game scoreless in the first period, he made a dazzling stop on New Jersey forward David Clarkson off the rush and a little later with his team up 1-0, Quick foiled Devils forward Adam Henrique on bang-bang chances during a New Jersey power play.
"He's all-world, right," Mitchell said. "He's been doing it all year. We wouldn't have had a chance to get into the playoffs if it wasn't for him.
"When you have a goalie to minimize the damage, it allows you to find your rhythm. I've said it before, I make no apologies for him being the backbone of this team."
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