Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick snags the puck out of the air as Devils winger… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
NEWARK, N.J. -- No, Kings, no!
Three days after having the Stanley Cup on the end of their sticks, the Kings skated onto the thinnest of ice Saturday, slushing toward disbelief, skidding into a serious sweat.
In a series against the New Jersey Devils that should have been completed by now, those flames curling across the Prudential Center ice came alive, and their heat is real.
In the Kings' race against 45 years' worth of demons, the demons are gaining.
On a night when they could have been carrying the Cup, they were hitting the post. They were hitting a crossbar. They were watching a goal score on a puck that hit their defenseman's back. And they just kept getting hit, and hit, and hit.
By the time Game 5 ended, two losses had occurred, the Kings losing a 2-1 decision while their fans were surely losing their minds. As abruptly as the pounding of that Bruce Springsteen song resonated across the emptying rink, a potential Kings sweep is now a three-games-to-two lead with the horned ones charging and history waiting.
The Devils are the first team in 67 years to trail a Stanley Cup Final series three games to none and force a Game 6. Only one team in history has ever come back from a similar deficit and actually won the Cup, and that hasn't happened in 70 years.
Is it happening now? It felt like it Saturday with Tony Soprano screaming from the scoreboard, and Martin Brodeur diving across the goalmouth, and Jonathan Quick suddenly going slow.
"They have got the momentum now," acknowledged defenseman Rob Scuderi. "It's up to us to get it back."
That will have to happen Monday in Game 6 at Staples Center, a must-win game in front of a must-have crowd hoping to relieve nearly a half a century of frustration. It is a difficult task for a young team that collapsed under similar pressure amid theNew Year's Eve atmosphere of last week's first clinching chance.
Yeah, that shiny ball is still up there, and the crowd around it is growing larger and more restless by the day, and if the Kings don't drop it Monday, it might never come down. The seventh and deciding game would be played in front of a newly empowered Prudential Center crowd that roared and jeered with every Kings' slip and slide.
And, oh yeah, the Devils have already won one Game 7 in this postseason while the Kings have yet to play a series that even lasted this long.
"You definitely don't want to come back here," Scuderi said.
Especially not after what happened Saturday, when the big-hitting Kings were outhit for a second consecutive game, when captain Dustin Brown was left looking for his first goal in this series, and when the Kings had seven more shots but umpteen more frustration.
"I think they're so close to winning the Stanley Cup that I'm sure it's getting to them a little bit, to be able to have all these chances and not capitalize on them," said Devils goalie Brodeur, the ancient ornate doorstop who allowed the Kings to score on only one of 26 shots.
The Kings protested that it wasn't bothering them. "I'm not going to deny it's disappointing, but I don't think we're to the point of panic," Scuderi said.
But the eroding of their composure seemed evident at 12:45 of the first period, when the coolest King momentarily melted. In clearing a puck behind the net, Quick knocked it off the boards and directly on to the stick of Zach Parise, who skated behind the net and knocked in the puck from the other side.
Said Quick: "I didn't put the puck where I wanted to."
Said Scuderi: "No one is going to deny that it wasn't an ideal way to start the game."
As in Game 4, the Kings came back to tie it, this time in the second period on a brilliant bit of hockey, Justin Williams skating across the middle and firing a shot past three Devils, his teammates hopping into his arms in joyous relief.
That feeling lasted less than six minutes, with the Devils scoring the eventual game-winner on Bryce Salvador's slap shot that bounced off the body of defender Slava Voynov and into the net. So far in this Final, Voynov has scored two goals for the other guys and none for the Kings.
Yeah, Coach Darryl Sutter's bitter beer face was in full bloom.
"Didn't see it," Sutter said of the goal.