Kings Dwight King (74), Trevor Lewis (22), Jarret Stoll (28), Alec Martinez… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)
NEWARK, N.J. — To many of the players involved, the eight-week journey that brought the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final seems to have happened in the blink of an eye.
Only their playoff beards, which in some cases have taken on bushy dimensions, are proof of the long road they've traveled.
"Two months. That's crazy," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said Saturday. "It's been enjoyable. You remember every bit and piece of it but you lose track of the days pretty quick. The only days you're thinking about is when we play next."
The Kings, who squandered a chance to clinch the Cup at home Wednesday, were preparing to play their 19th postseason game as they took a second stab at winning hockey's biggest prize.
Their NHL-record 10-game road winning streak was on the line at the Prudential Center, as were their chances to win the first championship in franchise history and to become the first No. 8-seeded team to win the Cup.
"It's been a great time. It's awesome. It's the best time of your life," Greene said. "You've got to enjoy it but you've got to realize how special it is too, how rare this opportunity is, but definitely you've got to enjoy it.
"This is your one chance to do something really great with this group of guys and you've got to seize that opportunity."
The Devils, preparing to play their 23rd game, were trying to become the second team in NHL history to win the Cup after losing the first three games of the Final. A sixth game, if necessary, would be played Monday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
New Jersey prolonged its season Wednesday by bottling up the Kings' first line and weathering an early push in which the Kings hit the post twice. A strong performance by goaltender Martin Brodeur, who turned 40 a few weeks ago, also went a long way toward giving the Devils a 3-1 victory and forcing the Kings to put their celebrations on hold and their clothes in a suitcase for the trip back East.
The Devils have won the Cup three times, in 1995, 2000 and 2003. Brodeur played on all of those teams.
"I think we never lost optimistic feelings here. Everybody is still positive. Nobody wants to go away. Everybody wants to play hard," Devils winger Alexei Ponikarovsky said.
"We already played four games. We know what to expect from them. They know what to expect from us. And it's just a matter of little things and bounces your way and get lucky on some of the shots. It's just going to come down to work ethic and battles, too."
Players on each side could point to favorable omens.
The Kings were perfect on the road, having won 12 straight playoff games stretching back to last season, so they weren't unnerved by the prospect of playing before a hostile crowd in New Jersey. In addition, the previous four Cup winners clinched on the road: the Detroit Red Wings won at Pittsburgh in 2008, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned the tables at Detroit in 2009, Chicago won its first Cup in 49 years at Philadelphia, and the Boston Bruins won the Cup in a seventh game at Vancouver a year ago.
The Kings' loss on Wednesday was their third in a Game 4 of a series this spring, following missed chances to clinch against Vancouver in the first round and Phoenix in the Western Conference final. They swept theSt. Louis Blues in the second round.
But they won Game 5 in each of those series and were hopeful they could do the same Saturday. Asked if it would be appropriate for the Kings to win on the road, defenseman Rob Scuderi smiled.
"I can't speak for everybody but I wouldn't care," he said. "If we're lucky enough and fortunate enough to win, I could care less where it is."
Despite getting only one goal from their top line in the Final — and that an empty-netter — the Devils believed they gained momentum by winning Game 4.
"Any time you can play at home it's nice in the playoffs," rookie forward Adam Henrique said. "We've just got to go out and play hard for a full 60 minutes."
Coach Peter DeBoer said it would be crucial for his team to get a good start, especially after repeatedly putting pressure on Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in each game and coming up empty. The team that scored first won each of the first four games.
"The first goal's important," he said. "Again, I don't think there's any secret that we won the last game because for the first time in the series we found a way to get some momentum. It hasn't been for lack of effort.
"I think we've pushed hard enough in first periods of games in this series to grab the lead at different points, but Quick either has made a big save or they made a good defensive play to keep us off the board. That momentum is important, for sure."