On the road again
If you closed your eyes -- and believe me, you wanted to close your eyes -- you could almost hear a slow moan whistling out of the building.
A city’s inflated expectations were being punctured. An incomprehensibly joyous downtown sports party was being deflated. Forty-five years of frustration was being rudely, reprehensibly popped.
The Kings’ first chance to treat their pained fans to their first Stanley Cup championship escaped into a silent night Wednesday after a 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Jubilant hope crowded to the rink’s rafters nearly an hour before the game. Morose silence walked away before the game ended. Those fans who arrived after paying $1,500 for an upper-level view of their beloved team touching the Stanley Cup? They walked away kicking the cheap plastic cups at their feet.
It was shock, followed by “awwwwww.”
One of the night’s loudest cheers occurred before the game when, on the giant scoreboard, the Kings’ legendary broadcaster announced, “This could be the night we’ve all been waiting for!”
A couple of hours later, the night’s most smothering silence occurred when Adam Henrique whacked in the go-ahead goal with less than six minutes to play.
Turns out, even Bob Miller couldn’t save this one.
The Kings still lead the series, three games to one, and only one team in NHL history has ever come back from a three-games-to-none deficit to win a Stanley Cup Final, so there is no reason for real worry yet. The Kings will go back to New Jersey for Game 5 Saturday, and they are unbeaten on the road in the postseason, so there is still a real feeling that this title has just been put on hold.
But goodness, wouldn’t it have been nice for them to finish it Wednesday in what would have amounted to one of the most emotional sports victories in this city’s history? After 45 years, a few more days shouldn’t matter, but it just won’t be the same if the Kings wind up carrying the Cup in downtown Newark.
Certainly, nobody around here will care as long as they win it. But absolutely, everyone around here seemingly felt the weight of Wednesday’s capsized opportunity.
The Kings felt it, with Drew Doughty shaking his head and saying, “I know everyone really wanted us to win it tonight.”
The Kings fans felt it, with only about a third of the crowd sticking around to send their team back to Jersey with a hearty “Go Kings Go” chant after the clock ticked to zero.
And that dude who handles the Stanley Cup felt it, as he hauled it out of the building before any of the locals could cry in it. I know, because I looked for it in the arena tunnels afterward.
The Cup was gone. The group of celebrities and dignitaries who were hanging out after the Kings’ Game 3 victory here Monday were gone. The usually cluttered hallways were virtually empty save for the regret of a seemingly invincible Kings team that learned something about itself.
Guess what? They’re human. They knew that Wednesday could have been the biggest moment in franchise history. And by the time they stepped on the ice after spending two days in a city gripped with Kings fever, that moment swallowed them.
They played as if scared to lose. And when they missed on several golden chances to score -- they even hit the post twice -- they hung their helmets and played defense as if they had already lost.
“This could have been a case where you want something so bad, maybe you work too hard for it,” center Colin Fraser said.
For the first time in the series, the Devils skated freely and continually forced the action. For the first time, the Kings could not equal their energy.
“We’re going to have to match their desperation,” center Jarret Stoll said. “We didn’t do that tonight.”
After hitting the post twice in the first period, the Kings seemed to disappear for long stretches, even lulling the building into a weird murmuring quiet midway through the second. Nobody seemed to wake up until the Devils’ Patrick Elias made everyone pay for their inertia by knocking in a rebound seven minutes into the third period.
As if roused from an awkward nap, the joint was now rocking, fans loudly pleading, their “Go Kings Go” chant halted when, exactly a minute after the Devils’ goal, Doughty knocked a slap shot past Martin Brodeur to send the place into a frenzy.
Tie game, most of a third period left, the room rumbling, the Kings with the momentum, right? Yeah, well, it disappeared faster than the puck that Dustin Penner shot wide of the net several minutes later.
The Kings seemed deflated again, and were clearly rocking back on their skates when Henrique charged in for the game-winner, with Ilya Kovalchuk later adding an empty-net goal to finalize the score.
“We didn’t bury them when we had the chance,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
And now their next chance will occur a continent away, with Wednesday’s inspirational pregame scoreboard message already a distant memory.
“This is the moment . . . It’s finally here . . . It’s Cup Time.”
No, no, and maybe next time.