Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

It was 3-0 Monday night and now it's 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. That seems like a rout.

But what the Kings did to the Rangers in the Garden was more like a smothering, a sleeper hold of a performance. This is what the Kings do. They are methodical and they can be lethal, and they were both in Game 3 to drive the Rangers right to the brink of being swept in this Final.

The Kings mustered 15 shots on Henrik Lundqvist and played most of the game without the puck. If they had a half-dozen quality scoring chances, it would be a surprisingly high number.

But they got playoff MVP goaltending from Jonathan Quick and a handful of good bounces, and the rest was about turning pucks away when necessary and keeping the Rangers at bay.

"It's tough when you have the puck a lot of the game, you're controlling the pace . . . and a break here, a break there and they make you pay," Marc Staal said. "It's frustrating, absolutely."

The Rangers could look at the game video from the Kings' last trip to the Final, two seasons ago, to see how they've built this budding empire. They won the first two games in overtime against the Devils in 2012, then went home and dominated for a 4-0 Game 3 win.

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The Devils pulled out the next two before bowing in six games. The Rangers, who threw everything they had at Quick and the Kings, to no avail, will be fortunate to get even a game from the Kings.

And it's not because the Kings are so much better. The way the Kings lulled the Rangers to sleep in Game 3 reminds you that the Rangers had Games 1 and 2 going just the way they wanted them, creating odd-man rushes with speed and getting Quick off his game early.

Those blown leads and OT losses in Los Angeles were made all the more haunting as the Kings calmly handled whatever the Rangers brought Monday night, then got the dagger goal from Jeff Carter with eight-tenths of a second left in a first period that featured almost nothing from L.A.

"We want to get the lead and stifle them," Jarret Stoll said. "We just stay on top of them."

The Carter goal stole the breath from the Garden and Quick stole every slick move the Rangers had in the second period. So the Rangers are down to their last effort Wednesday night to simply get themselves back to L.A.

It's fair to wonder if the Rangers have more to give after a long roller coaster of a season. They have nothing to be ashamed of from these first three games, especially Game 3. They were punching above their weight class but doing so with sincere effort and skill, not simply slinking off after nearly winning twice last week.

No one may care about that after Monday night, though. The Kings showed what they're capable of in Game 3. It's not about razzle-dazzle with them, more about getting the lead and simply squeezing the life and the fight out of the Rangers.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter was asked how it felt to have a lead in regulation for the first time in the series. "We're used to it," he cracked back.

The Kings played like a team accustomed to falling back on their structure and their discipline when it matters most. The Rangers gave what they could, but this was cold-blooded and methodical.

And now the Rangers, after gamely battling their way through for a chance at the Stanley Cup, are nearly drained of their fight by a team that is, indeed, used to applying that sleeper hold when the time is right.