NEWARK, N.J. - The Stanley Cup was in the house once again, just not the Stanley Cup champions.
Not yet anyhow.
All it will take for the Los Angeles Kings to win the Cup is one more victory, but another win may not be within their reach. The Cup Final has taken that much of a turn.
The favourite, one win away from its first ever championship, suddenly may not be favourite anymore.
That has been the fear of the Kings for a few days now and it came to fruition Saturday night after their second straight defeat in the Stanley Cup Final. The first time they have been beaten twice in any playoff round. The first time these losses came back-to-back against the ever-dogged New Jersey Devils.
Game 5 didn’t potentially alter the path of this championship series, with both teams now headed back to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Monday. It altered the sensibilities of the two teams involved. Prior to Saturday night’s 2-1 defeat, the shocking Kings had won every road game they had played in the post-season.
Suddenly, the Kings are 10-1 on the road, and that matches the 10-1 record of New Jersey in Games 4-7 in each of their playoff rounds, all of which they trailed at one time.
The game at the sold-out Prudential Center was easily the best of the Cup Final to date. It had more speed, more turnovers, more scoring chances, more great saves, more mistakes that resulted in goals or opportunities.
This was the kind of game we might have hoped to expect from the beginning of the series. But too often these teams have played as though they were afraid to lose: There was none of that on Saturday night, both teams played to win. And an excellent hockey game broke out in a series that hadn’t a lot of excellent hockey up to now.
The concern with the Kings prior to Game 4, after they won the first three games without really dominating, was that everywhere they went around Los Angeles someone was congratulating them on their soon to be Stanley Cup victory. It was happening so often it was getting to general manager Dean Lombardi, some of his staff, and he thinks, the players.
“They kept hearing it over and over,” said Lombardi. “You’ve got to remember, this is still a young team. We forget some time how young they really are. Darryl (Sutter) and I talk about it a lot.”
Young and still a win away from the Cup. The momentum may be in the Devils favour, after finally finding a way to solve Jonathan Quick, but the odds are still with the Kings. Win one and they have pulled off one of the great surprises in hockey history. Lose Game 6 at home and it’s a best of one, with all the momentum against them.
After Game 3, with everything going the Kings way, that didn’t seem possible. And it didn’t seem that the Devils could find any way to solve the Conn Smythe favourite, Quick.
They only scored two goals at home in the first two games on Quick and didn’t score in Game 3. But since that 4-0 defeat, the Devils have scored five goals on Los Angeles, four of them on Quick in five periods, heading into the third Saturday night.
The first goal was basically the kind of gift Quick hasn’t provided much in the playoffs. Attempting to clear the puck behind his own net, he badly bounced the puck off the boards, the puck landed on Zach Parise’s stick who wrapped around for the Devils first 1-0 lead of the series.
Getting the first goal on a Quick mistake and the second on a deflection off Kings’ defenceman Slava Voynov the Devils seemed to loosen up on offence. And as the goals were exchanged, something became surprisingly obvious.
Ancient goaltender Martin Brodeur was not just matching Quick save for save in the series: He has started to be the better of the two. And now there is much for the Kings to overcome as they head home for Game 6.
It is still one game to win for Los Angeles. Question is, after so much success, do they have one more win in them?