LOS ANGELES – In a crowded hallway near the Los Angeles Kings locker room, Chris Sutter explained to an usher who he was and maneuvered around the traffic. Chris, the youngest son of Kings coach Darryl Sutter, had a little girl and other family members in tow as they ducked into a private suite at Staples Center.
Family and friends, like the Stanley Cup, were ushered back to their respective quiet spaces after the Los Angeles Kings failed to bring the party to life and spring a city into bliss Wednesday.
The Kings were all set to get their hands on the Stanley Cup until the New Jersey Devils had the audacity -- and the tenacity in the corners -- to take Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, 3-1. Not far from that suite of family members, Dustin Penner said what a lot of people might have sensed.
"It's a good lesson for us," Penner said. "And a good lesson for the media and the fans because everybody, I think, was maybe putting the cart [in front] of the horse, to an extent."
Los Angeles came close to sweeping New Jersey and filling out the storyline. It was tied, 1-1, in the third period after it finally shook a record-sellout crowd of 18,867 into a frenzy. By the time Ilya Kovalchuk deposited the puck into an empty net to seal it, the silence was a reminder of just how difficult it is to claim the most hallowed trophy in sports.
"You hope you can do it in front of your fans," Simon Gagne said. "You have family here – friends and stuff like that. Like I said, it's the Stanley Cup Final. I don't think we expected to win it in four. We're in a great position, but it's going to be a big fight. It's going to take a lot of work to get it done."
At the morning skate Wednesday, Penner seemed to be the only player who addressed the collective, pregnant pause that seemed to be building around the team. If they were at all distracted by the spectacle, they didn't show it.
Penner was frank when asked about pre-game jitters in the Kings' room.
"I don't know. I'm not a doctor," he said. "Maybe on a subconscious level. We definitely wanted to win this one for everyone else and ourselves. We can't do much more than we did tonight. We could have easily won this game.
"I think to an extent, there was maybe a few butterflies. I don't know what kind. I think it's human nature with the situation we're in with the guys that haven't been here before. But now we know … now we can get rid of that minor excuse and focus on the next game."
While L.A. didn't follow the Hollywood script, the Kings followed the storyline of their Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are 1-3 in Game 4s, having lost to the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes. It would be fitting to win it on the road given their 10-0 record away from Staples Center. It's just that it would have been special to lift the Cup in a city that has never seen it.
Captain Dustin Brown rolled out his usual mantra of resetting before he delivered a Penner-like declaration.
"It's disappointing not to win it here in front of our crowd," Brown said. "But we go to New Jersey and, again, we're comfortable on the road. It doesn't matter if we win it here or there. Maybe there is a little more sentimental value of winning on home ice, but if we win it [the Cup], there we bring it right back here."