Goaltender Jonathan Quick leads the Kings onto the ice before the start… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Any bit of mild criticism at this stage simply sounds like carping or a random attempt to be contrarian.
Except when it is coming from the Kings themselves. Yes, these 15-2-in-the-playoffs Kings.
It involves the process of elimination, and you might say it's been a tricky one. The Kings were unable to dismiss the Vancouver Canucks on their first attempt, in Game 4 at Staples Center, and the same happened against the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference finals in Game 4.
In between, they swept the St. Louis Blues. And now comes Game 4 Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils at Staples Center with the gleaming Stanley Cup in the house, the Kings up three games to none and poised to win it for the first time in franchise history.
"We haven't really been very good in these situations," Kings center Mike Richards said Tuesday at the team's headquarters in El Segundo. "We're 1-2 when we're up in these situations. It's something we have to improve on obviously and we still know we can play better and be better."
They've had 3-0 leads in all four rounds, the first team to do that since the NHL moved to best-of-seven series in every playoff round, meaning they learned how difficult it is to strike that final blow.
"You go back to the first series and we let Vancouver off the hook for sure," Kings forward Colin Fraser said. "We didn't play our best game and same with Phoenix when they came here. You want to play your best game every single night.
"In reality, does it happen? Probably not. In order to close it out, we definitely have to bring our best game because they're going to bring their best game — 100% desperation. We need to have the same mentality. We can't approach it like we're up 3-0. We maybe have to approach it like we are down 3-0."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter probably won't have to push that particular button. He stayed predictably on message about his club and Jonathan Quick, not gushing about the team or its star goaltender.
Sutter did tell a funny story about his specific whereabouts in Viking, Canada, when Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi called him about their coaching job in December.
"I think I was in the barn," Sutter said, adding that he wasn't shoveling anything. "I remember that, but I had [shoveled] that day. Was probably warming up. It was cold."
Don't they always say coaching can be a messy job?
But there's been almost nothing untidy about the Kings' journey to the brink of the Stanley Cup. They are positioned to become the second team in NHL history to go 16-2 in the playoffs. In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers went 16-2 with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and goalie Grant Fuhr.
"It's a lot different hockey now," said Kings center Jarret Stoll.
Indeed, Fuhr's goals-against average was 2.90 and his save percentage was .883 in the Oilers' successful playoff run, after he had won the Vezina Trophy (best goalie) for his regular-season performance.
Quick has allowed two goals with a save percentage of .972 in three Cup Final games. Much of the talk Tuesday dealt with his stellar performance and status as the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, which goes to the most valuable player in the playoffs. He already has been named a Vezina finalist.
Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said Quick has been in a zone the whole season. "I think there was a stretch of games from maybe Game 25 to Game 55 where we didn't score much and we didn't play that well as a team," Scuderi said.
"He was the only one that was giving us a chance to consistently be in those hockey games and maybe get a point. Maybe get one in a shootout. I think he was on a roll the whole year, really. I think the team kind of followed his lead in the last 15 to 20."