Jeff Carter celebrates scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to beat… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter had seen the Lakers' practice court in El Segundo before thanks to a friendly security guard who had the keys to the gym, so Sutter knew Sunday where to find their NBA championship banners and the 10 trophies lined up in the window of Lakers executive Jeanie Buss.
A repeat visit only enhanced Sutter's wonder as he looked up from the court, which has been turned into the Kings' media headquarters during the Stanley Cup Final.
"Pretty neat," Sutter said, with a warm smile.
The court and the Kings' complex share a wall but seemed worlds apart, especially around this time of year. The Lakers' half of the building showcases their many championships. The Kings' rink features old pictures plus banners commemorating the 1991 Smythe Division title and the 1993 Campbell Conference championship, their biggest honors before their current playoff run.
Usually the Lakers are using their gym in June but the Kings occupied it on a sunny Sunday in a universe turned joyfully upside down.
The Lakers are done, scattered for the summer. The Kings, who won a pair of 2-1 overtime decisions at New Jersey, will return to Staples Center on Monday needing only two victories to have their names engraved on the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
Although they've been so single-minded that they often sound blasé, for the Kings the symbols of the Lakers' success were good reminders of the rewards their work might soon bring them.
"This is the first time actually I've ever been in here," defenseman Drew Doughty said, eyeing the Lakers' banners.
"I see them all. It would be nice to throw one of those up in our practice facility, for sure."
To do that they need to win two more games against the best and most tenacious team they've faced.
The Kings have insisted at every step that they need to get better, words that sounded like a script. After winning the first two games on the road in all four rounds and taking a 3-0 lead in each of their first three series they didn't seem to have any holes.
But they're again saying they need to improve, and not out of modesty's sake. They've kept productive winger Ilya Kovalchuk scoreless but he had a chance to win Game 2 in regulation only to have his shot glance off the crossbar. And their power play still isn't helping them. It was 0 for 3 in the first two games and is six for 77 (7.8%) overall. Capitalizing once in a while would alleviate some of the pressure heaped on goaltender Jonathan Quick.
But the Kings' primary concern is how to handle the Devils' aggressive and cohesive forecheck. They've faced some good ones before but none so coordinated.
"They've been the most successful against us," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We've been able to move the puck in and out of our zone pretty regularly the first three rounds, and you saw it in Game 2, quite a bit, where they're dumping it in and they're getting it back, which hasn't happened to us.
"I think Game 2 in particular we probably spent the most time in our zone since the beginning of the playoffs."
New Jersey's strategy has had an impact on Brown, who led the Kings in playoff scoring after the first three rounds but has no points in the Final. He had no shots in Game 2.
"It's almost like a five-man forecheck. As a winger playing my off-wing, it hasn't been easy making plays off the wall because the D is right there," said Brown, a right-handed shooter who has been playing the left side.
Defenseman Matt Greene also praised the Devils' forechecking. "It's getting a lot of things done for them that they want to get done," he said. "They're bottling us up in the neutral zone, too. We want to stay more in the offensive zone and not rely on Quickie as much as we have."
Except on the power play the Kings have been able to make successful adjustments wherever they've needed to. There's no reason they can't do it again.
"The reason both teams are here is because of system, discipline and detail. You expect more system, discipline and detail," Sutter said of Game 3.
They also expect more from themselves. If they get it, as they have consistently until now, they'll share more than a wall with the Lakers — they'll share a championship resume.