The Fourth Win is the Hardest

Of course the fourth win is the hardest, and of course the guys from the other Conference aren’t going to lie down and give it to you, even if you are in your home building. So get your bags, wipe your eyes, and get on the plane.

Something like that is what might have been said to the LA Kings after they failed to cement their first Stanley Cup at home Wednesday night. But honestly, the truth of what happened in the Kings losing 3-1 is told by the home pages of each of the clubs. The Kings’ says, “Devils avoid series sweep with 3-1 win.” The Devils’ says “Brodeur stands tall in net as Devils take game 4, 3-1.”

That’s all that happened. It wasn’t the tragedy that it feels like to disappointed Kings fans, most of whom will not be able to sleep until the thing is wrapped up, which of course could happen Saturday.

If he’s any representative of the truth, Adam Henrique hinted at the exhaustian of his squad after the game, the fact that they know they’re clinging to a thin hope.

He said after, “It’s been a fun year, and it’s not over yet. We’ve still got some fight in there, and now we’re going home.”

Maybe he’s supposed to be matter-of-fact. Maybe he’s just being modest and not overstating the obvious, which is that New Jersey is still in deep, deep trouble. Either way, if he’s a signal as to what the Devils are thinking, there’s a lot of “we’re clinging to the thinnest thread and they’ve got the scissors” thinking going on in that locker room.

Of course, the optimistic in New Jersey will point out that the first two games went to OT and thus could have gone either way and that this fourth game was even most of the way, the scoring not even starting until there were about eight minutes gone in period three. That the floodgates didn’t exactly open, but that they defeated the Kings in solid fashion by two, with, of course, the last being into the empty net.

But Kings supporters could counter that naturally, they didn’t expect a guy with the pride of a Brodeur to roll over and play dead. And of course, despite their own sadness and anticipation, they didn’t expect the story to end as easily as it seemed to be going to.

So everyone’s happy. Brodeur isn’t swept. New Jersey gets to drag out their likely sadness another few days. And the fans in LA will be on pins and needles until the day, one of the next three game nights, when their team puts it all to rest, assuming they do.

Perhaps the short but sweet wisdom of Kings Coach Darryl Sutter is the only remedy for this kind of communication impasse. “Pretty much overtime in the third period, same as the first two games,” he described the contest. Then when asked about ending it in four: “Awesome. Close out a series in Game 4. It’s the Stanley Cup Final. Game is the very same as the first two games.”

In other words, “It’s the Stanley Cup final, stupid; do you expect a proud team and an even more proud goalie just to give in without a fight?” The last sentence, too, matters because it’s his recognition that games one and two could have gone the other way. Only they didn’t, and that’s what puts the Kings in the statistical driver’s seat, despite one loss.

In Sutter’s attitude you see what’s gotten the Kings this far, and what will most likely get them through the next couple of frenzied days, with all the anticipation of Christmas starting over again as soon as the guys exit the showers.

The New Jersey coach also put a hugely positive spin on the series, with this game as a lens, when he said, “We found a way to keep momentum. We didn’t play any harder [than in prior games]. I mean, I think the chances were relatively even again tonight, like they have been most of the games. Our poorest effort was in Game 1. I think the last three games could have gone our way as easily as they’ve gone L.A.’s way.”

Not even a “not to take anything away from LA” to preface, but then again, he’s in the middle of a series, and isn’t ready to concede anything just yet.

He also described Henrique’s winning goal as a highly skilled play, “a goal-scorer’s goal,” whereas Coach Sutter had seen it more in terms of the breakdown on the part of his guys, citing a pass that was too long.

DeBoer further talked about the spirit in his room. “Well, they believe. They’re in the fight. They’ve got a lot of pride. Like I said, we’ve been in adverse spots before where we’ve played two or three games and haven’t got rewarded because of either hot goaltending or we’ve taken too many penalties. We know we’ve just got to stick with it and it will turn. And it did tonight.” He then went on to give the old song about being good at home, going there and winning a game in front of the home crowd.

What else can he say? He’s still in a deep hole, unprecedented except for those oft-cited 1942 Leafs, and there truly is no answer other than to win the next one.

But to think that the Kings could lose four games in a row? Impossible. They’d have to have the worst run of the stats catching up to them a team ever had. So things didn’t go their way in game four. So two of the next three are in New Jersey. Three more games won’t be played this season.

Game stats on this night also tell a bit of a tale. The hits favored the Devils, 43 to 33, surprising in the other squad’s rink and a signal that they were not nervous, but determined. They were also better on faceoffs by several percent. So that gives the Kings a couple of areas to focus on as they head East and try to finish the series in five instead of the magical four games.

NHL transcripts and other media reports were used to compile this article.

Follow Brian on Twitter @growinguphockey

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