Fans Erick Smith, left, Jeff Gaskin, middle, and Elizabeth McClure, all… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Beered up but suddenly benign, disappointed Kings fans poured out of Staples Center on Wednesday night.
"Why couldn't we win it here?" rang out across L.A. Live after the Kings' loss.
"We're still up 3-1," assured Dan Sine.
"We have to win one, they have to win three," mathematician Debbie Eskenazi explained.
And so it goes, this improbable season is frozen for at least a few more days.
"I'm not worried, I'm disappointed," said Tommy Nast, summing up the feelings of most fans as they spilled out of Staples Center, still a little shell-shocked.
"Because I don't want them to win it on the road," said his wife, Luanne. "And I don't want to give them life."
Are you worried?
"Oh no," says Laura Lee. "This is going to be their year, I know it."
Just not, apparently, their night.
Emboldened by Monday's 4-0 Kings win, most fans started the evening confident that they would be witnessing a Stanley Cup presentation.
"It's a lock," predicted Lucas Burdick at the Marriott lobby, which was elbow to elbow, beer to beer, before the game.
Outside the Marriott, longtime season-ticket holders Dave and Linda Jackson were trying to keep a lid on pregame jitters.
"Relax," he told her.
"I just can't," she insisted. "We're on pins and needles."
For some Kings fans, long accustomed to disappointment, they couldn't help but harbor a kernel of worry, a molecule of last-second bridal doubt.
"I know we're going to win the Cup, I just don't know if we'll do it tonight," predicted Cliff Thomson of Thousand Oaks.
With the Kings going into the game with a 3-0 series advantage, it was party mode all over L.A. Live before the game, the crowd almost twice as large as Monday.
The ESPN Zone was standing-room only, bouncers closing the gates to the popular restaurant two hours before the puck dropped.
Even the temporary beer garden at the center of the plaza filled to capacity, with dozens of fans waiting to enter.
"It's in the bag," insisted Ian Campbell Lundy, a Georgetown student from the South Bay, milling about with a dozen college-age friends.
As has been the case for weeks, Staples seemed the center of the sports cosmos. Amid loud speakers, live radio shows, Toyota promotions and "JESUS SAVES" signs, Kings fans mingled as if attending a giant tailgate party.
"We want the Cup! We want the Cup!" went the chant.
"The Cup's in the building and we're taking it tonight," Marcie Matika predicted as she waited to enter the arena.
"We're confident, very confident," said Bob Campion. "They're going to come out as if shot out of a cannon."
"Quick is going to shut them down until we score," added Dieter Ahlers.
After a scoreless first period, the tension grew.
"Go, Kings, go!" went the chant.
Then: "We want the Cup! We want the Cup!"
"They're beating us to the puck," one fan moaned during the scoreless second.
"Anything but overtime," said Linda Jackson, from her seat in Section 332.
"Relax," said her husband.
"We've got to win tonight," insisted Linda. "We can't afford to come back Monday!"
After the second period, the concern built. The smell of weed in the air, even the normally rowdy smoking deck was a little muted in how it hassled Devils fans.
In the frustrating third period, Kings fans grumbled like a hung jury. In the Staples ice itself, a mere inch thick and getting thinner by the moment, rest three lucky pennies the team embedded when the frozen sheet was formed last fall.
When the ice melts, the Kings are considering saving vials of it as a sort of holy water to hand out to long-suffering fans. Assuming they win it all, of course.
Meanwhile, behind the bench, the Kings' Pygmalion coach paced nervously, channeling the fans' concern.
And finally, that unexpected ending, the Devils prevailing in the City of Angels, as devils occasionally do.
"As Kings fans, we're used to that kind of disappointment," huffed Matt Murray from beneath face paint.
"We'll do it," predicted his buddy Brad Hawkins. "I just wanted to see them make history tonight."
"It's all right, I've still got faith," said Jonathan O'Sullivan.