NEWARK, N.J. — The Kings had been shoved from their lofty postseason perch and landed squarely in hell.
That's what it looked like. That's what it felt like.
The lights at the Prudential Center went dim, the scoreboard glowed red, the speakers blared "Highway to Hell" while thousands of fans sang an ominous curse.
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The Kings were on the verge of being crushed by Devils. They had lost their lead, lost their composure, and should have lost this Stanley Cup Final opener in regulation, but New Jersey's Mark Fayne missed an open corner of the net with 10 minutes remaining.
Overtime. At this place known as the Rock, the Kings trudged off the ice as if pelted by doubt. But then, in what is currently the most charmed dressing room in sports, three orders were issued.
"Catch your breath. Suck it up. Keep fighting."
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Rob Scuderi repeated it. He wasn't sure who said it. Does it matter who said it? The entire room bought it. And at 8:13 of overtime, they all did it.
Justin Williams made a no-look pass, Anze Kopitar juked and shot, the Kings scored a Showtime goal to beat the Devils, and, lordy, the magic grows.
People, this is real. Folks, this could happen. With a 2-1 overtime victory here Wednesday night, the Kings moved to within three victories of winning their first Stanley Cup championship in the club's 45-year history.
They have won an NHL-record nine consecutive playoff games on the road this year. They are unbeaten in three overtime games. And now they've survived the best goalie in history while being slowed by sweaty and choppy ice, and they've done it with heroics from their most obscure player and their most skilled star.
"Everybody in this room has a voice," said Williams late Wednesday, looking around a room that reeked with three hours of deep sweat.
A voice, indeed, and it's now staring down history and shouting, "Outta the way, eh!"
How else to explain it? How else to understand that what happened Wednesday is what has been happening to this team for nearly two months.
"We've got something pretty good going on here," said Williams, who just won the Insert Historical Hockey Figure Here Award for understatement.
Wild enough that the game began with a first-period Kings goal by somebody named Colin Fraser. It was the fourth-liner's first goal of the postseason, and now the Kings have playoff goals from 16 different players. Honestly, I didn't even know they had 16 different players.
"Coach Sutter stands in there and tells us, 'It's going to take everybody,' and it always does," said Jordan Nolan, another member of that fourth line that stole the show.
So everything is going great for the Kings, and the red-clad crowd is weakening, and then, wilder still, the Devils scored the only way they could seemingly score against impenetrable Jonathan Quick — the Kings scored for them, on a deflection off Slava Voynov's shoulder.
"You can't say what we're going through is a dream," said Williams. "Because we know that at any minute, it can become a nightmare."
And so it was, the Devils dominating play at the end of the second period and early in the third period before the Kings settled down and held them off in regulation, leading to the dressing-room speech given by a dozen Knute Rocknes.
"Tonight we showed how we are built," said Dustin Brown.
They are built on each other, as Williams showed in overtime when he started the winning rush by flipping a no-look pass through two defenders to a wide-open Kopitar.
Although, incidentally, Williams had no idea Kopitar was wide open. In fact, Williams has no idea the dude was even there.
"I guess I just felt him there, and decided to make the pass," Williams said with a grin. "What's the worst that could happen if he wasn't there? It just goes to no one, right?"
Ah, but it went to the Kings' flashiest one-on-one player, and Kopitar juked the great Martin Brodeur and found an open space and powered the puck into the net while at least one of his teammates' jaws dropped.
Said a chuckling Scuderi: "I couldn't believe he waited that long. I would have shot it from the blue line."
Said a smiling Kopitar: "He's a world-class goaltender but I think I got the best of it tonight."
Then the game was over and the Kings disappeared into the tunnel, only to reappear moments later in what is apparently their natural state. Seriously, this is a potential Stanley Cup championship team that hangs out like a high school team.
In their dressing room was a stack of postgame pizzas. Outside the dressing room there were stacks of players still in their T-shirts, gym shorts and bare feet, hanging out with their families. Whose turn was it to bring snacks again?
"We're not thinking about any records, we're not thinking about anything but the next game," said Scuderi.
But about that next game, Saturday night here, a chance to put serious pressure on a Devils team that has already lost home-ice advantage?
"Well, yeah, we can't wait," said Scuderi, sweating, smiling, sweating, speaking for all those Kings fans who right now are doing both.