Dustin Penner gets taunted by Devils fans late in the third period of the… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
NEWARK, N.J. — Now it's a series.
All it took was Justin Williams' clanging a shot off the post early in the first period, a miscalculation by goaltender Jonathan Quick as he tried to bang the puck off the boards and out of danger, and the carom of a shot by New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and the team that looked like a runaway train in winning the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final appeared to be chugging uphill.
The Kings on Saturday again hit the post and crossbar more frequently than they got shots behind goalie Martin Brodeur and were held to one goal for the second straight game. Their second try at closing out the Devils ended no better than their first, a 2-1 loss at the Prudential Center that sent the Final and the Cup back to Staples Center on Monday for Game 6.
"It's funny how it goes," Kings center Colin Fraser said, though he wasn't laughing.
The Kings weren't overwhelmed Saturday. They had a fine, fast start in what was the most entertaining period of the series. But they were repeatedly dinged physically and statistically, and the Devils drew strength from every blow while ending the Kings' league-record road winning streaks at 10 this spring and 12 over two seasons.
"It's nice that we're finding some holes in them right now," Devils Coach Peter DeBoer said.
The Kings' penalty-killing streak in the Final ended at 15 after Zach Parise capitalized on Quick's mistake and tucked the puck inside the right post. The Kings were outhit, 34-23, and had 20 of their shots blocked by the Devils.
They pressed furiously in the third period, when Coach Darryl Sutter took the extraordinary step of going down to three lines and moved an active Simon Gagne up to the left side with Anze Kopitar and Williams and put Dustin Brown with Jarret Stoll and Dwight King. Brown was scoreless again and has only one assist in five Final games.
With Brodeur sharp again, no line switches could get the Kings the goals they needed to pull even and win. All the breaks the Kings got in the first three games seemed to go to the Devils, including a shot by Salvador that caromed off the body off Voynov and past Quick at 9:05 of the second period for the winning goal.
"That's the way things go. It's playoffs and right now it seems like they get those bounces on their side," Gagne said.
"We hit a couple posts. It's two games that it seems like we hit a couple posts and it seems like the puck doesn't bounce on your side. They got that on their side and hopefully we're going to start getting more on our side."
While the Kings were winning the first three games, Sutter had emphasized that the play had been so close the games could have gone either way. That seems more accurate as the Final goes on.
"We're probably saying what they said after Games 1 and 2, where we got breaks and now they did. That's how even it is," Sutter said. "We hit a couple posts again tonight, and you hope one goes off the post and in."
They need more than hope. They need finishers. They need relentless pressure.
"We've got to win. That's it," Fraser said. "Give that little bit extra to get there and score one more than them."
Is it really that simple?
"Of course it's adversity. You want to close it out in Game 4 and we didn't and we didn't tonight," Fraser said. "We're still in a good spot.
"We worked hard to get up three games. We're going back home. This is obviously not the result we wanted but we're still in a good position."
That's the biggest encouragement they took out of this: that they can claim the Cup with only one more win. The Devils still need two.
"We have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup on Monday. You don't need any other positives," Quick said.
But they do need more effort, more persistence, more of everything than they've given the last two games in order to change those bounces back in their direction. Or the only direction they'll be headed is Eastbound for Game 7 on Wednesday, with the weight of history sitting more heavily on their shoulders.