Kings Will Have to Go on the Road Again for Game 5
Los Angeles can't clinch Stanley Cup Final at home, so now the Kings must pack for New Jersey and another shot at the Devils.
Dustin Brown tries to get off a shot between New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur and forward David Clarkson (29) during the first period of Game 4 at Staples Center. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / June 6, 2012)
They barged through the first three rounds of the playoffs with only two losses and sustained that surge by defeating the New Jersey Devils in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final, a swift and relatively smooth path that ranked among the best performances in NHL history.
Fans accustomed to agony and suffering had to look for details to nitpick while convincing themselves this was really happening. Those fans were on the edge of their seats Wednesday knowing that the Cup was stashed somewhere inside Staples Center, their anxiety mixing with wonder as they prepared to vent decades of frustration.
That frustration was extended, at least for a few more days.
The Devils pinned the Kings in their own zone for good chunks of time and capitalized on their scoring chances, earning a 3-1 victory that pulled the plug on Kings fans' party plans and kept the Cup in its packing case for the trip back to the Prudential Center for Game 5 on Saturday.
"They were better tonight," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said, a simple but accurate summation.
The trick for the Kings is to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"It was definitely disappointing. The fans were loud. And just to close it here would have been fantastic," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "But it's in the past now. We didn't do it. We've got to close it out next game."
They say they weren't overconfident, and there's every reason to believe them. They've never been complacent at any point in this remarkable postseason journey, usually policing themselves or responding to the occasional nudge from Coach Darryl Sutter.
"I thought before the game we were well focused. You don't want to get overhyped or anything like that," Doughty said. "I think the guys were calm and were ready for what was at stake.
"We just didn't put things together and we didn't play our team game the way we usually do."
They weren't as crisp or in control Wednesday as they had been Monday in taking a 3-0 series lead, and they never generated a sense that they would put this away. Some of that stemmed from the Devils' energy and physicality New Jersey was credited with 43 hits to the Kings' 33 but the Kings also felt they didn't get any breaks. And that they didn't deserve any.
"We had some good opportunities that didn't go in. We got both of the bounces on the overtime goals in the first two games and maybe it was time for them to get some," Doughty said. "I thought they did tonight."
Center Anze Kopitar, who clanged a shot off the post late in the first period shortly after Justin Williams had deflected a shot by Slava Voynov off the iron, also lamented the Kings' self-imposed misfortune.
"We couldn't score. We had a couple of chances and didn't bear down," Kopitar said, his tone somber. "We didn't get a couple of bounces. I know you have to create your own bounces and I think it was just they played with more desperation than we did, and we have to correct that in Game 5."
It might help that the Kings will be back on the road, where they have won an NHL-record 10 consecutive playoff games this spring and a record 12 over the last two seasons. They are not afraid of hostile crowds or not having the last line change.
"Obviously we've played well on the road, but you try and play the same way whether you're on the road or at home," goaltender Jonathan Quick said. "We just focus on the next one, that's all it is."
The next one could be the one that clinches the Cup, though it won't be the same for fans who paid hundreds of dollars to be able to say they were in the building when the Kings threw off all the curses and bad luck that has dogged them for so long.
"I'm not going to say it wouldn't be nice," Scuderi said of winning at home. "I don't know how the fans feel, but I know we don't care where we happen to hopefully clinch. It doesn't matter to me."
What matters is whether they can prevent the Devils from getting confidence from Wednesday's win and getting back into this series. A relatively easy journey just got tougher.