LOS ANGELES -- On the road again. It's a ballad better suited for a team in a country and western city. It could work in Dallas or Nashville, but the L.A. Kings will at least feel comfortable breaking it out for Game 5. With a chance to clinch before the local glitterati, the Kings instead are licking their wounds after a 3-1 loss to the Devils and will head for the gritty confines of New Jersey, a place where they have already won twice.
To be fair, it suits a team that plays a fast, physical game often free of Tinseltown flash. "We've been there before," says L.A. defenseman Drew Doughty. "It isn't anything new." No, a team that is 10-0 away from home ice won't mind packing its bags for another road contest on Saturday night.
"The fourth one is the toughest," said Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. "It doesn't matter where we win it. We just need to win it."
The Kings didn't intend to make a ride at history, either, not with a foe that seemed flattened at the end of L.A.'s 4-0 win in Game 3. "We don't look at it that way," said defenseman Rob Scuderi. "We let them back in the series. With a little bit of confidence, that hope can carry you a long way. We didn't want to give them that."
It's too late now. The Kings had a fair number of chances against Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, but he made some good early stops and saved the best of his 21 for the third period when all four goals were scored. Four minutes into the period, he kept the game scoreless as his team nearly cost him. Simon Gagne picked off Bryce Salvador's giveaway and fed Trevor Lewis, who was in alone, but Brodeur reached out to make a lunging Johnny Bower-style pokecheck to knock the puck out of harm's way. He also stopped a semi-breakaway try by Dustin Penner and had to scramble back into position to turn away Jeff Carter.
Soon after New Jersey's Patrik Elias popped in a rebound to give the Devils their first lead of the series, Doughty tied it with a point shot on the power play that Brodeur didn't see. The lead lasted exactly 60 seconds.
When New Jersey's David Clarkson sprung Adam Henrique with a pass later in the period, the rookie with a veteran's stash of cool beat Quick for the eventual game-winner. "Misplay between the defensemen," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "Not a coverage play. Can't make those long passes and think you can get away with it."
The Devils may have a little window into how to move up the ice against the Kings. After the off-day skate, Elias talked about New Jersey's fallback pattern of dumping pucks out of its own zone rather than trying to make a play. The approach worked against the more aggressive Flyers and Rangers, but with more room, Elias noted, the Devils had the opportunities to look up and try to make some longer passes.
Despite historically strong numbers in a year for goalies, L.A.'s netminder wasn't entirely surprised. The Kings won a pair of overtime games in New Jersey and Quick's strong goaltending was a big reason they survived twice in OT. "They played well the first two games," Quick said. "They could have won either of them."
L.A. has now dropped a Game 3 in three of its series, after jumping to astounding 3-0 leads in all four. On each occasion, the Kings blew chances to win rounds at home and had to fly to Vancouver, Phoenix and now New Jersey to close out their foes. "It helps a lot that we've been through that," said Doughty. "Both times we played Game 5, we came out strong, the way you have to play when you go on the road."
If confidence matters, the Kings may have allowed the Devils a swig of it. "More than yesterday," Brodeur said. "You know, I think we wanted to make them jump on a plane and come to New Jersey. We had to go anyway. Might as well get a game over there ... I'm sure they're not happy to make that trip. We'll try to make it miserable for them again."
The Kings are actually the fourth home club to lose a recent potential Cup-winning game, including the Red Wings in 2009 and Canucks in 2011, who both fell on home ice in a Game 7. Road teams are now 47-37 in the playoffs this year.
It was a disappointing night for the Staples Center's rich and famous (Will Ferrell, Matthew Perry, Martin Short, Vince Vaughn and, of course, Wayne Gretzky among them) who were looking for a coronation. It will be a true test of fandom for the L.A. faithful to put their trust in the team's road streak and swing suddenly cross-country. At least one movie face knew the score.
"Just get me a flight," Cuba Gooding Jr. was telling his fellow A-listers outside the Kings' locker room after the game. "I'm there. They're good on the road. They always win on the road, right?"