SHORT HILLS, N.J. – Darryl Sutter contorted his face in a display of disbelief and disgust, and let out an incredulous laugh shortly after the Los Angeles Kings failed in their initial attempt to claim the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title.
The monotone coach seemed stunned Wednesday night when he was asked about his club’s “problem” in Game 4s of the playoffs. The Kings, 15-3 in the post-season, are the first team to grab a 3-0 lead in four straight series in a year—but only one of those matchups ended in a sweep as Los Angeles dropped three Game 4s at home.
The latest setback came in a 3-1 defeat on Wednesday night at the hands of the Devils, who forced a Game 5 back in New Jersey on Saturday night. Sutter couldn’t believe that a failure to sweep was now the standard of being a problem.
“Awesome,” he said sarcastically. “Close out a series in Game 4? It’s the Stanley Cup finals.”
That ended the brief three-question news conference. Sutter felt no reason to stick around any longer to entertain any talk that his surging team has any issues at all, other than it had to make one more long road trip.
Sutter was still miffed Thursday morning before the Kings headed East.
“Continue to play the way we’re playing. That’s why you play series,” he said of his club’s mindset. “Unfortunately, we have some spoiled people that think that everyone wins 16 in a row or something. A little confusing to me.”
The Kings are heading back into their true comfort zone—the road. It is there that they have already set records with 10 straight victories in this post-season, and 12 playoff wins in a row, dating to last year. With one more win away from L.A., the Kings will also set the mark with 11 road wins in a single playoff.
“It’s better than if we were going into another Game 4,” forward Dustin Penner said after getting off the team bus in New Jersey. “Life is not so bad. We’ve got a few more games here to reach our end goal. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We had a good lesson last night, losing that one. It was a tough one.
“We’re going to hopefully take the next step that we’re all working toward.”
The Kings are 1-3 in Game 4s with a chance to end a series, but they are 3-0 in the ensuing Game 5s, so Los Angeles is fully prepared to short-circuit any hopes the Devils have of becoming the second club to dig out of an 0-3 hole in the finals and win the Stanley Cup.
“Elimination games … the teams you play against are there for a reason,” forward Justin Williams said Thursday. “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.”
While the Kings have proven to be a resilient bunch and the most formidable No. 8 seed in NHL playoff history, a Thursday flight to New Jersey didn’t exactly follow the script they had planned. Another cross-country trip after missing a chance to lift the Cup in front of the home fans, who have waited 45 years to celebrate such an event, is hardly ideal.
“Obviously, a little disappointing,” forward Jeff Carter said Thursday in Los Angeles. “Would have liked to have gotten a win on home ice, but we’ve got to move on from that. Think about it last night, move on, get ready for Saturday.”
The Kings know they are still in prime position to become champions. They surely don’t want to delay the now-expected coronation, and in turn give the Devils more life if Los Angeles fails again on Saturday. But if so, the series will return to California for a Game 6 on Monday night.
“We just play every road game the way we have throughout the season here, throughout the playoffs,” Williams said. “We just don’t let any distractions bother us. We go in, we play our game.
“We know the Prudential Center is going to be rocking, just like when we had to go back to Phoenix and play Game 5, go back to Vancouver and play Game 5. The arena is going to be rocking and we’ll have to be ready for them.”
If they don’t come through, the festive mood of Game 4 could be replaced by a whole lot of nerves in Staples Center if the series is forced to return there again.
“It’s a one-game series for us, and that’s been our focus not only this series but all series,” captain Dustin Brown said after arriving in New Jersey. “It’s gone well for us.”
Even the support of celebrities such as Will Ferrell, Alyssa Milano, Matthew Perry, Martin Short and Vince Vaughn, who were all in attendance for Game 4 on Wednesday, could be taxed.
“As a team, it’s fair to say we understand we’re playing for the Stanley Cup come Saturday night,” Brown said Thursday night, “but as a group we’ve also been level-headed. We have also been really good at rebounding in games after losses.”
L.A. has never had the kind of hockey party that is just one Kings win away—whenever it might come over the next potential three games.
“We know the fourth game is going to be the hardest,” centre Trevor Lewis said. “It’s the Stanley Cup finals. It’s pretty tough to sweep. We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared, and get ready for Game 5.”