LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Kings already know there’s no place like home ice for a coronation.
They’ve got the chance to lift the Stanley Cup at Staples Center again when they host the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the finals on Friday night, giving the ultimate celebration to their long-suffering fans for the second time in three years.
Yet the Kings’ memories of that night in June 2012 weren’t a popular subject Thursday as they prepared for the chance to finish another draining, two-month postseason with one big party.
“It doesn’t matter where you win the fourth,” Jarret Stoll said at the Kings’ training complex. “This time of year, it’s all about the result.”
With the weary poise of a team that has already been through three seven-game series this spring, the Kings insisted they’re not bothered by their inability to finish a sweep in New York. Mike Richards and the Kings calmly flew home, grabbed a few hours of sleep and focused on a good start to Game 5, figuring it will lead to the big finish.
“It’s not going to be easy, but confidence is there,” Richards said. “If we play well, we think that we can have success. You don’t make it to this point of the season without having confidence in your team.”
Stoll is tired of the Kings’ weak starts, however. The Rangers have taken 2-0 leads in three of the series’ four games, forcing Los Angeles to play catch-up hockey — something the Kings do extraordinarily well, but would prefer to skip Friday.
“We know we can do more, especially at the start of games,” Stoll said.
Henrik Lundqvist gave the Rangers hope with his 40-save performance in Game 4, earning another cross-country trip for the Eastern Conference champions.
The goalie’s unflappable poise — and one or two puck-slowing mounds of snow — helped keep the Rangers in the series with a 2-1 win in Game 4.
And now that they’re off the canvas, the Rangers realize they have ample reason to be comfortable at Staples Center, where they never trailed in their two series-opening overtime losses. The Rangers still mixed it up in their return to the visitors’ dressing room for practice Thursday: except for their two goalies, every player took a new locker.
“I know if we win (Game 5), they’re definitely going to feel the pressure,” Lundqvist said. “We were in that spot playing Montreal. The closer you are to your final goal, obviously you tend to think more. That’s just the way you work. It’s hard not to.”
Lundqvist is the Rangers’ best hope, and the Swedish star is at his best with the season on the line. He is 11-2 in the Rangers’ last 13 elimination games with a 1.30 goals-against average and a .959 save percentage.
“It comes down to how much you want to battle, how much you want it,” Lundqvist said. “Not only for me, but for the group. ... Sometimes when everything is on the line, that’s actually easier sometimes to focus in on the important thing and not so much on consequences.”
Lundqvist’s dominance in the Kings’ 10th loss of this postseason was frustrating but not discouraging to a team that has repeatedly surmounted all difficulties over the past three years.
Two seasons ago, the Kings had lost just two games in the entire playoffs when they had their first chance to clinch their franchise’s first championship. The Devils beat Los Angeles 3-1 at Staples Center in Game 4 and then won again in New Jersey in Game 5, making the eighth-seeded Kings uncomfortable for the first time in their charmed run.
The Kings returned home and won Game 6 in a rout. Most of the Kings’ current roster was on that team, and the players remember the innumerable distractions: ticket requests, media pressures and a wellspring of natural excitement.
“I think everyone is more equipped now, or more ready for it, more aware of what the distractions are and how they can present themselves, and what you need to do to push them away,” Richards said.
Game 5 is Los Angeles’ NHL-record 64th playoff game in the last three seasons, and the Kings will tie the single-season record with their 26th postseason game of this season. The game will be the 93rd of the entire postseason, making it the longest playoff in league history.
But if the Kings are exhausted at the brink of their 10th series victory in the most grueling three-year stretch in hockey history, they haven’t shown it. The Kings dominated the Rangers for much of Game 4, outshooting them 15-1 in the third period, but failing to get anything past Lundqvist.
The Kings uniformly scoff at the notion of fatigue playing any role with hockey’s ultimate prize just a game away.
“This is why you play the game,” Stoll said. “It doesn’t matter how many games you play. You’ve got energy. You’ve got jump. You should, (if) you realize what you’re playing for. Yeah, it’s a lot of games, but it’s why we play.”