Nobody said winning the Stanley Cup was easy. It's just that the Los Angeles Kings have made it seem that way.
The Kings have taken almost all of the suspense out of a Cup run by jumping out to 3-0 series leads in each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's what a party-crashing loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 will do: Restore perspective.
"That's why you play series," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Thursday before the team departed for Newark, N.J., to play Game 5 on Saturday.
"Unfortunately, we have some spoiled people that think that everyone wins 16 in a row or something. A little confusing to me."
Outside of their three losses, the Kings have never trailed by more than one goal at any time during the postseason. They have trailed for a total of 143:32 in the playoffs.
Game 4 was really more a reflection of a New Jersey team scratching out a win and finally solving goalie Jonathan Quick thanks to another sensational game-winning goal by Adam Henrique. The timing was crucial. The Kings allowed three third-period goals, including an empty-netter, after giving up just one in the previous nine games.
New Jersey forced 17 giveaways for the second straight game, was tougher in the corners and played better defensively in the neutral zone. The Devils won despite recording one shot on goal in the first 17:52 of the second period and no shots in the final 13:59 of the second.
More importantly, New Jersey didn't allow L.A. to create a belief that it would be a sweep.
There were long stretches of the first two periods where the crowd at Staples Center was strangely quiet. The Kings tied it, 1-1, and got the momentum for a few shifts before it dissipated. The Kings dropped Game 4s in the Western Conference Quarterfinals and Finals, so why wouldn't it be harder in the Stanley Cup Final?
"Elimination games, I don't know, the teams you play against are there for a reason," Justin Williams said. "It's not supposed to be a sweep all the time. You're not supposed to win every game. That's when their character comes out, when their backs are against the wall. They played a great game, battled hard. We just didn't quite have enough."
Usually a 3-1 series lead is large enough not to create a panic, but Kings fans would admit to a pang of nervousness given their 45-year history of coming up short or not coming up at all. One reason for jitters would be 40-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur, who could be making a kind of last stand to his career.
Brodeur turned aside 21 shots and two partial breakaways by Simon Gagne and Trevor Lewis.
"He did what he had to do for their team," Jeff Carter said. "He made the big saves. He played well."
Dustin Penner, who has become like an oracle of truth in these playoffs, said after the game that the difference was mentality.
"You could say they were probably more desperate," Penner said. "They didn't want to get swept. And maybe we didn't match their desperation. I think it was a see-saw battle, and a matter of a coin flip."
That the Kings still had a good shot at victory bodes well for Game 5. They also continued to produce on the power play -- 3-for-6 over the past two games after going 0-for-18 in the previous five games. There is also that 10-0 road record by L.A., a new NHL standard, although worrywart Kings fans might think that has to end sometime.
The Kings will have two days to get re-organized, but there's really nothing more to be said. While they remain a win from the Cup, the series has been a close one with two of the four games going into overtime and Game 4 being up for grabs until the final half-minute.
"I mean, we know their strengths, we know their weaknesses," Anze Kopitar said. "I'm sure they're doing the same. It's going to be an interesting game, a game of inches."