NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 09: Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings looks on from behind Simon Gagne #12 and Jordan Nolan #71 during Game Five of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on June 9, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
After blowing two chances to clinch the Stanley Cup, what now for the Kings? They can't worry or wallow in self-doubt. They've earned this margin for error, and now is time to cash in.
Darryl Sutter went all "This is what passes for questions?" when a reporter after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals suggested Games 4 in these playoffs have been "a problem for you guys." (Sutter's Los Angeles Kings had taken 3-0 series leads in all four playoff series this season, yet "only" completed the sweep in one of them.)
Safe to say no one is asking Sutter how come his team can no longer win Game 5. Saturday night the Kings lost Game 5 for the first time in these playoffs, and suddenly a series that looked headed for a sweep a few nights before has gotten far more interesting.
As Sutter said to that paint-by-numbers reporter after Game 4, "game's the same as the first two." To translate that Sutterese into English: Every game in this series (save for the Game 3 blowout) has been close, and quite similar. Don't read too much into a one-goal victory for either side, where one bounce or one post can tip the scales.
The same applied to Game 5, where the Devils held on for a 2-1 win that forced the series back to Los Angeles. Launched with two consecutive overtime games followed by the Game 3 blowout, these Stanley Cup Finals have been pretty close despite the lopsided 3-0 series lead Los Angeles grabbed. The Kings generally control play more often than not, but their offense has not been productive.
Saturday night, like most nights, it could have gone either way. Both Devils goals came on good breaks for them -- a misplay of the puck by Jonathan Quick and a deflected shot off Slava Voynov into the Kings' net.
Asked about the thin margin of error for both teams, Sutter said:
"That's pretty much it. I think if there's anything ... you gotta finish your opportunities, work to get them and pretty much not give up more than one [goal]."
(A few questions prior): "You know we hit a couple -- we're probably saying the same things they said after Games 1 and 2, where we got breaks and now they did. We hit a couple of posts tonight, and you hope one goes off the post and in."
So what now? The Kings can't worry or wallow in self-doubt. Despite the close games, the Kings earned this margin of error, this mulligan of losing two consecutive games for the first time in months. If they keep playing as they have, the odds are still on their side -- and the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup on home ice returns.
But the pressure will be on, as now the threat of a loss at home in Game 6 means the possibility of a historic choke and the possibility of the Devils taking the Cup on their home ice. So many experienced players say the key in this situation is not to focus on the negative, the prospect of what might be -- indeed, the possibility that the fortune that helped them begin the playoffs 15-2 has swung the other way at the worst possible time.
Alas, one game at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time. As Sutter said when asked how his team would digest the Game 5 loss: "We'll digest tonight and travel, expect [Game 6] to be another game like tonight."
Count on it.