LOS ANGELES - Outside the Staples Center Wednesday, midway through the afternoon, the crowd began to gather, hoping this would be the night.
A night they have never known in Los Angeles before.
The Los Angeles Kings began as an NHL franchise 45 years ago with a first year coach named Red Kelly behind the bench, an old man named Terry Sawchuk in goal and a later legend, Brian Kilrea of all people, scoring the first goal in franchise history.
This was to be a night of celebration for a team that has had so little to celebrate in its history. The fans outside were ready. The loud and excitable crowd inside the Staples Center, a record attendance of 18,867, was ready. The noise in the building was deafening before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final even began. And then the game got underway.
A Stanley Cup game with everything on the line began with efficiency but little drama. No score at the end of the first period. No score at the end of the second period.
And then came the best period of the series. The first with back-and-forth action and something resembling Stanley Cup quality.
New Jersey Devils rookie Adam Henrique, whose knack for scoring timely goals has been evident throughout the playoffs, scored on a nifty feed from David Clarkson to force a surprising Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final.
The party Los Angeles was waiting for would have to wait. Considering the Kings havenít lost a road game in the playoffs, you could say they have the Devils where they want them.
They should have had them Wednesday night.
The Devils did not score a first-period goal in the first three games of the series and continued on that streak in Game 4. In all, they had scored only two goals against the sensational Kings goalie, Jonathan Quick, heading to the third period Wednesday. It was remarkable they were still alive in the period that should have had the crowd beginning their night of partying. And it was in that period the Devils scored more goals then they had managed in the first three games combined.
Maybe this gives them some life. Maybe this makes it a series. Maybe.
Quick had not allowed a direct shot beat him in the series, which is probably a first for any goalie in the Stanley Cup final. Wednesday, the old man, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, was equal to Quick, the obvious Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player in the playoffs. Brodeur was especially sharp in stopping a semi-breakaway by Simon Gagne, the veteran scorer. Later, in the third period, Gagne put a saucer pass on the stick of Trevor Lewis, who looked like he might score the Cup winner. He seemed to beat Brodeur, slid the puck under him on a deke attempt, but the puck went wide.
For their part, the Devils were doing everything right on the road. Once again, they had taken the crowd out of the game. But until they finally scored at 7:56 of the third period, their first goal since Game 2, their first lead of the series, they looked happier to survive rather than win.
The goal for New Jersey, started by the clever Dainius Zubrus, who worked the boards and controlled the puck the way the Devils had in earlier rounds, working it for a point shot that led to the veteran Patrik Elias scoring the 1-0 marker. The lead that took them four games to get lasted all of one minute. And that had to be heartbreaking for the Devils. After David Clarksonís penalty, Drew Doughtyís power play slapshot through traffic tied the game.
But the high shot by Henrique, who had already scored huge goals for the Devils in the post-season, was enough to push the series back to Newark. It wasnít what the Kings wanted. It wasnít what their fans wanted. But on a night where the crowd at the Staples Center wanted to see something they had never witnessed live before, they began to leave after Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk slid the puck into an empty net with 19.1 seconds to play.
There would be no party on this night. There are still games -- or at least one game -- to be played.