Old sports wisdom says it's toughest to win the last game. Win No. 4 of a series is more difficult to get than wins one through three. At least that's what the Kings were saying after their Game 3 win in the Stanley Cup Final over the Rangers.
Looking back, though, eight of the past nine times that a team has taken a 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final, the series resulted in a sweep. The one time it didn't wasn't in 2012 with these Kings (to find the last sweep you have to go back to 1998 with the Red Wings over the Capitals).
Nothing has come easy for the Kings this postseason; they have required seven games each round up to this point. Why should it be any different in the Final, especially given that it took this group three games to close it out in 2012? Well for one, they aren't playing Game 4 on home ice.
"There was a lot of distraction," coach Darryl Sutter said of playing Game 4 at home in 2012. "I think that was a lesson learned not just for our players but for our whole organization. We were trying to keep our players as a little inner circle, which they still do. But the circle got a little bit of infringement."
Home or not, the Rangers aren't going to be an easy team to finish off. The line of the series being at 3-0 is misleading because the games have been much closer than the blowout series line suggests. The Rangers have been skating with the Kings, and add that to a close-out game situation, and the Rangers aren't ready to quit.
They can't afford to give up hope of the improbable comeback and, of course, that starts with Game 4. Almost as much as staying alive in the series will drive the Rangers, so will keeping the Kings from hoisting the Cup in New York City.
"You don't want to end your season losing a game at home and giving the Stanley Cup to their team," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said Tuesday. "It's not going to happen that way."
It's not quite a guarantee but it will work.
Fact is, it shouldn't be easy to put this team away. So far in elimination games, Henrik Lundqvist has been stellar, something he hasn't been in the first three games of this series (though really only the second game was "rough"). That's a trend with Lundqvist that goes back beyond this postseason.
The last 12 times the Rangers have faced elimination they have staved it off 10 times. Of course, Lundqvist started each of those 12 games and his numbers have been crazy good; a .957 save percentage, 1.32 goals against average and two shutouts.
But none of those came against this Kings team averaging 3.5 goals per game.
One thing working in the Kings' favor is they know as well as any team that a series isn't over until it's over. Earlier this postseason they came back from this exact hole the Rangers are in, so they know they can't get comfortable with their lead.
Really, just read what Drew Doughty had to say about a game his team takes a 3-0 lead into.
"They're a good hockey team. They're here in the Stanley Cup Final for a reason, and we can't let 'em back in this series," Doughty said. "We need to win tonight. This game's the most important game of our lives, of this season especially. It's a must-win."
Considering there are four potential close-out games, two in LA, it's really not even close to being a must-win game, but you can understand where he's coming from. The Kings want to end this before the Rangers can get any hope, because hope is dangerous.
At this point it seems like a foregone conclusion the Kings will win the Stanley Cup, but putting the Rangers away will be like the rest of their postseason; not easy.