Kings goalie Jonathan Quick falls to his back as he defends against the Devils… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter is an intelligent man, so there's not much he doesn't understand hockey-wise or otherwise.
But he professed to be baffled by the criticism of his team after the Kings missed a chance Wednesday to sweep the Stanley Cup Final and instead absorbed a 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils before a deflated crowd at Staples Center.
Asked what the Kings will have to do Saturday to win Game 5 at the Prudential Center, Sutter seemed surprised the question had been asked.
"Continue to play the way we're playing. That's why you play series," he said before the team boarded its charter flight to New Jersey on Thursday. "Unfortunately, we have some spoiled people that think that everyone wins 16 in a row or something. A little confusing to me."
The Kings set the bar extremely high by blazing through the first three rounds of the playoffs in 14 games, two above the minimum. When they followed that by winning twice in overtime at New Jersey and shutting out the Devils at home in Game 3, they set fans' hearts fluttering in anticipation of seeing the Cup being awarded Wednesday.
The celebrations were put on hold and the Cup went back into its packing case for the flight to New Jersey, primarily because the Devils capitalized on their scoring opportunities and the Kings let theirs go by.
The tone was set in the first period, when the Kings hit the post twice, and continued in the second period when New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur stymied Simon Gagne on a breakaway and made a sprawling save on Trevor Lewis. Against a strong defensive team like the Devils — and sure Hall of Fame goalie Brodeur — they missed too many chances to prevail.
"Oh, I think we definitely had our chances to win the game, but we knew they were going to come out hard. They did a good job at that," Lewis said. "We've got to refocus and prepare for Game 5."
Is it as simple as that?
They also need to be more physical and win the battles they usually win but lost Wednesday, the board battles and time-and-space battles.
"It's not supposed to be a sweep all the time. You're not supposed to win every game," winger Justin Williams said. "That's when their character comes out, when their backs are against the wall. They played a great game, battled hard. We just didn't quite have enough."
The Devils seemed more cohesive after making two lineup changes, substituting Petr Sykora for Jacob Josefson up front and Henrik Tallinder for Peter Harrold on defense. They benefited from a defensive mixup by the Kings on their second goal, but after being continually frustrated by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in the first three games, they felt the break was a reward they had earned.
"We definitely are looking forward to the next game and some of the momentum. Finally we were able to score goals on Quick, not many, but enough to win," Brodeur said. "Hopefully that's going to be a good thing for the boys coming home, that we're a little better offensively on home ice."
The Kings are 10-0 on the road this postseason and have won 12 straight away games over two seasons, both NHL records. They won their first-round series against the No.-1 seeded Vancouver Canucks on the road after missing a chance to clinch at home and did the same in the West finals against the Phoenix Coyotes. Both clinchers were in overtime.
So while they'll be in hostile territory Saturday it's not unfamiliar territory mentally.
"We've just got to forget about what's happened in the past," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We've got to restart. It's Game 5, but at the same time it's just that we have to say it's Game 1 and we need that first game. It's so important.
"Going in on the road I think that's where we play our best system game and don't feel the pressure maybe of closing it out in L.A., or whatever it might be. So, next one's huge."
It will become even bigger if the Kings allow the Devils to gain even more confidence and extend this to a sixth game Monday at Staples Center.
"It's going to be an interesting game, a game of inches," center Anze Kopitar said.
It's also an opportunity they can't afford to miss.