LOS ANGELES - The Kings were comfortably ahead by four goals late in game three of the Stanley Cup Final.
"We started to get sloppy," said Drew Doughty of the 4-0 victory. "And he made sure to give it to us and tell us 'we can't be playing like this because you can't take your foot off the gas.'"
Darryl Sutter isn't going to let up. That is of course until the Kings officially close out the Devils and win their first Stanley Cup. The group from L.A. is in stellar position, clutching a firm 3-0 series grip with Game 4 ahead at the Staples Center on Wednesday night.
The Devils meanwhile are looking for a vast change in fortune. Rookie centre Adam Henrique even took to donning a new-look moustache in hopes of swinging the tide. "Why not?" he shrugged with a smile. "Need something."
A few pucks behind Jonathan Quick – notably on a dry powerplay – would be a start to slowing the seemingly unstoppable Kings. Quick has been beaten just twice in the opening three games, neither effort a clean finish past a goaltender deep in the zone of a dominant postseason (.950 save percentage).
"Quick's playing very well," said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, noting the performance of the Kings goaltender early in games. "We're creating as many chances this round as we had against the Rangers the prior round. We're not finishing so we've got to bear down a little bit more. We've got to get some more traffic. We've got to find a way."
"It's obviously tough when we don't score," veteran Patrik Elias concurred. "We haven't got the first goal at all in this series. When you lead, the other team has to change their game a little bit and we've got to try to do that. We've got to try to come out [Wednesday] and just create more quality opportunities and try to get that goal."
(The Devils are 8-2 in the postseason when scoring first).
DeBoer meanwhile, deflected criticism of his star players, notably Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, who have each gone pointless in the series.
"You guys [in the media] want somebody to blame for the situation we're in," said DeBoer. "It's not like that. We're working hard. We're doing a lot of good things. It hasn't gone our way yet. We've got to keep going."
The two sides are an obvious contrast in mood and pressure on the eve of game four.
Believing they're deserving of a better fate – following overtime losses in games one and two – the Devils are desperate to stave off elimination in hopes of a return trip to Jersey, while the Kings sport a guarded and yet optimistic state of mind, eager to hoist the Cup in a city budding with excitement, but careful not to jump to conclusions ahead of puck-drop.
"We know how tough of a game it's going to be and what's ahead of us," Mike Richards explained, "but at the same time we have to be ready for it and not make mistakes just 'cause we're nervous."
"You just play the game," concluded Jarret Stoll. "To get to where you want to be at the end of the night, you've got to play the game and do the right things. We've done that so far in the playoffs. We've had a pretty narrow focus and pretty straightforward approach to what we need to do and how we need to play.
"We'll try to win."