The Stanley Cup stayed shiny and dry Wednesday. No champagne spilled from its bowl and no loving hands lifted it skyward to kiss it and live out a childhood dream.
The Kings had hoped to take the Cup home with them from Madison Square Garden as the ultimate tourist souvenir, but their 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final put those plans on hold. Instead, the silver trophy remained under the watchful eyes of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Cup keeper — a cool job if ever there was one — and was packed for the trip West for Game 5, Friday at Staples Center.
The idea of soon being back on familiar ice, in front of friendly fans, was some consolation to the Kings on Wednesday. Not a lot, but some.
"It's comforting," said left wing Tanner Pearson, who was electrifying in using his speed to create an array of scoring chances, "but we would have liked to finish it tonight."
Forty-one shots, an additional 20 that were blocked by a fearless Rangers defense and 10 more that missed the net weren't enough for the Kings to clinch their second Stanley Cup championship on their first try. They didn't play badly. In the third period, they controlled the play and outshot the Rangers, 15-1.
The problem was that as well as the Kings played at times, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played better throughout the game.
"We didn't want the Cup coming out on our home ice tonight," Lundqvist said. "Just the thought of that makes me sick."
That's powerful motivation. The Kings, who have fended off elimination seven times in this playoff run but couldn't eliminate the East champion Rangers the first chance they had, will have to find similarly strong motivation on Friday.
The Kings know what it takes to come back from a 3-0 series deficit, having pulled that off in the first round against San Jose. They know that a desperate team will grab onto any ray of hope and any lifeline thrown its way. The Kings felt they had given the Rangers that lifeline Wednesday.
"We had an OK effort but it wasn't good enough, and now we know it's even tougher," defenseman Drew Doughty said.
"They got a little bit of momentum on their side and they're going to be feeling good about themselves, so we need to shut them down quickly in that first period of the next game."
The Kings couldn't do that Wednesday. Benoit Pouliot tipped a shot by John Moore past goalie Jonathan Quick at 7 minutes 25 seconds of the first period, and Martin St. Louis extended New York's lead to 2-0 at 6:27 of the second period after Kings defenseman Alec Martinez was unable to clear the puck out of danger.
Dustin Brown's breakaway, made possible when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi broke his stick and couldn't control the puck at the point, cut the Rangers' lead to 2-1 at 8:46 of the second period, triggering thoughts of the two-goal deficits the Kings had erased in winning the first two games.
This time, Lundqvist shut the door.
"He was very good for them," Brown acknowledged, though he saw the outcome as more the product of an opportunity squandered by the Kings when they failed to finish their many chances.
"It's about resetting and reloading, getting out of here and getting on a flight and getting yourself ready mentally to do the right things to put us in a position to win," Brown said. "We need to do it for a full 60 minutes."
They did a lot of things right Wednesday, but that doesn't matter anymore. "There's a lot of stuff we can clean up," Brown said. "At the end of the day we weren't good enough to win, and it's about being better."
Being better, to Jarret Stoll, means being relentless from the start of Friday's game and bearing down on scoring chances. "We were obviously good in the third. Again, that's the desperation that we show," he said. "But we've got to show that desperation the first half of the game."
No player sounded frustrated, no one seemed nervous. And they shouldn't be, after the mental toughness they've shown to get this far. They also know now is not the time to let up, with another chance coming Friday to free the Cup from its packing case and hold it high.
"We just need to come out with our best effort of the series," Doughty said, "and if we do, I'm pretty confident that we'll win that game."
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