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Kings look at the positive going into Game 6 of Stanley Cup Final

Kings say two straight losses to New Jersey aside, they are in enviable position of playing to win the revered trophy on their home ice Monday. Devils dispel the notion they have the momentum.

June 10, 2012|Helene Elliott

Viewed from one angle, all the pressure now is on the Kings, who have missed two chances to win the Stanley Cup and will get a third try Monday at Staples Center before their adoring but increasingly nervous fans. Have enough doubts crept into players' heads and their game that they'll let this slip away and subject themselves to a Game 7 in New Jersey?

No, they said Sunday in El Segundo after holding a team meeting to discuss the 2-1 loss that sent the series back to Los Angeles.

"The mood's good," team captain Dustin Brown said. "You talk about doubt — we've lost two games in a row. That's something that maybe this team hasn't done in a while, but again, we've been playing good hockey.

"You sit and you really start to realize the position we're in. We're up 3-2 and we're on home ice. I think most teams would have taken that at the start of the series."

There's also the perspective that the pressure really rests on the New Jersey Devils, whose season will end if they lose. They still need two wins to complete a historic comeback from an 0-3 Cup Final deficit, while the Kings need only one win to claim the revered trophy.

Making history isn't the Devils' motivation now.

"We're trying to win a Stanley Cup. If I had my way, we would have never got in that hole," Coach Peter DeBoer said. "I didn't feel we deserved to be in that hole. That was the hand we were dealt. We made a little bit of our own bed there and now we're stuck with trying to get out of it."

They've taken two big strides to get out, but winger Ilya Kovalchuk scoffed at suggestions the Devils have gained any impetus from winning Game 4 at Staples Center and Game 5 at home.

"Whoever wins the last game, that's what the people said, they got momentum," he said. "You've just got to go out there and try to play your best. What's in the past is all behind you. You can't do anything about it. You can only control what you're going to do next. You have to go out there and play your best."

A series that has been dramatically close in every contest except the Kings' 4-0 triumph in Game 3 will be decided by whose best players perform better under the worst duress.

Pressure can mold athletes or melt them. Some want the puck in overtime or to be at bat in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series. To goaltenders who thrive under duress, the action slows and the puck looks as big as a beach ball. Goalies whose nerves prevail can't stop that beach ball.

So far, each team has risen to the occasion at key times and each has made lineup adjustments to fine-tune its performance.

The Devils got a boost by bringing in defenseman Henrik Tallinder and veteran forward Petr Sykora for Game 4. The Kings put winger Simon Gagne on the fourth line in Game 3 and he has had some good scoring chances but he hasn't finished, a team-wide problem. The tradeoff is that putting him in for Brad Richardson took some grit away from that fourth line.

Coach Darryl Sutter put Gagne in Brown's place on the top line for several shifts in the third period Saturday and went with three lines. Brown, a historically streaky scorer, has only one assist in the Final.

"Brownie, he's spending a lot of energy. You're just trying to watch it a little bit," Sutter said. "Gagne played about 10 minutes ... that's probably about what he can give you. They have to be very high-end minutes."

Brown said he had no problem with the move. "At that point you've got to try to find something that's clicking. We weren't clicking, or whatever you want to call it," he said.

Brown also said he wasn't sure what the lines will be on Monday because the team didn't practice Sunday. "The players have to adapt to the situation," he said.

That also means adapting to pressure on the ice and minimizing the demands off the ice from friends and family who want a ticket or a minute of your time. They mean well but can be distracting.

"I think ultimately what it comes down to this time of year is the team that finds the next gear," Brown said. "It's going to have to be everyone collectively. It's not going to be one or two guys. There are players that are difference-makers out there but it comes back to sticking to the game plan. As tired as we are, we all understand what we're playing for. That's a pretty big motivational boost."

Center Mike Richards, who lost the Cup Final with Philadelphia in 2010, has come to regard pressure as a positive.

"I think the only pressure you have is the pressure that's in the dressing room, looking at the guy beside you, see how hard he's worked. It's something you want to do for him, not for everybody else that's trying to put the pressure on you," he said.

"We put a lot of pressure on each other as players. We expect the best of each other. I'd rather have the guy beside me expect the best than going out there thinking I'm going to be average. There's a lot of pressure we put on ourselves, but we don't get a lot of pressure from outside."

And now they're getting it. Monday's game will say a lot about their collective ability to handle it.

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