There's no panic in Los Angeles after twice missing out on chances to win the Stanley Cup. At least that was the company line on Sunday, as the Kings discussed Game 6.
Many of them, in fact, took an optional skate less than a day after a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 5, and seemed upbeat afterward.
"I think we're a confident bunch," Kings center Mike Richards said at the team's El Segundo, Calif., practice facility. " We obviously wouldn't be here if we didn't have the confidence. It's just a matter of playing hockey and getting better. It's the Stanley Cup finals. And if it was easy, everybody would have a Cup. But it's not easy. It's one of the toughest things that you're going to have to go through."
Saturday's defeat was Los Angeles' second in the last four days, after previously losing just two games all postseason. Game 6 is Monday at Staples Center.
"The mood's good. I mean, you can talk about doubt, because we've lost two games in a row, and that's something this team hasn't done in a while. But we've been playing good hockey," Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown said. "When you sit down and really start to realize the position we're in — up 3-2 on home ice — I think most teams would have taken that at the start of the series."
Especially when you consider the fact that Los Angeles is a No. 8 seed, and has never won a Stanley Cup in the franchise's 45-year existence.
"Is there pressure," Brown asked. "Yeah, there's pressure. It's the Stanley Cup finals."
Perhaps, after rolling through three rounds, the Kings are finally starting to feel it. With a home crowd waiting for the NHL's top prize last Wednesday, the Devils stole some of the Kings' thunder, got back in the series and posted a 3-1 win in Los Angeles. Then, the screws tightened on Saturday, when New Jersey posted a 2-1 victory in Newark, N.J., ending the Kings' NHL record 10-game road postseason win streak.
So not only does Los Angeles have to worry about losing the Cup, it also has the added burden of possibly becoming only the second NHL team to waste a 3-0 lead in the finals. Detroit fell apart in 1942, when it blew a three-game edge and lost to Toronto.
To a man, the Kings insist they have played well the past two games. There is truth to that. They have hit four goalposts in the last six periods, and the New Jersey tallies in Game 5 were not gorgeous scoring plays by any means.
Devils forward Zach Parise snared a gift power-play goal when Jonathan Quick mishandled a pass, and New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador's game winner bounced into the net off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said his team is in a good place in what has turned out to be a very close series. His team received the breaks in winning the first two games, and the Devils had them the last two.
"There is adversity in every game at some point ... always," Sutter said. "I don't think not having long series has any bearing on anything. The farther you go, the better the teams are that you play. You know what, that's why they're in it. There are low-scoring games. You look at it, four of the games were 2-1 hockey, other than an empty-net goal the last few seconds. The only challenge with our team is that we're not scoring a lot of goals."
He's right. The Kings were limited to just two by 40-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur in Games 4 and 5 combined.
Veteran forward Simon Gagne said the Kings are used to adversity after a season in which Sutter replaced Terry Murray in December and the team didn't nail down a playoff berth until the final week of the season. And it has since returned. After going 15-2 through three-and-a-half rounds, Los Angeles has hit a bump.
"We know how to deal with it," Gagne said. "It seems in the playoffs, we had it a little bit easier than people think. At the same time, we had to go into Vancouver and win Game 5, and to Phoenix, Game 5. Now, we have another challenge in front of us. It's going to be the first time we're in a series (at) 3-2. It will be a first challenge for us and we'll take that, for sure."
Brodeur believes the Kings have to be questioning themselves, at least a little.
"That's a bit of the doubt that we wanted to put in their heads, right from the get-to. But it took us a while to be able to get to that," Brodeur said after the Devils skated at the El Segundo rink. "We dug ourselves a really big hole that's going to be tough to overcome. But it's getting a little more realistic every day. So, we're looking forward to challenging them again. It takes a lot of pressure for them to try to win it and close the deal.
"It's the hardest game to win, the last one. Not just the Stanley Cup finals, but any series."
Salvador said there's pressure on both teams in Game 6. The Devils face the prospect of win, or the season is over. The Kings know they will get another chance on Wednesday in New Jersey if the series continues. As far as matching the Maple Leafs' feat from long ago, Salvador said the Devils aren't chasing history.
"At the end of the day, it's a best-of-seven series," he said. "And if it goes seven games, it doesn't really matter how you got there. It only matters who's going to win the series. And the prize is the Stanley Cup, so we're just looking at it one day at a time. Whatever comes along with it, comes along with it. But we've got to realize there's a lot of hockey left, and (Monday is) going to be a tough game. We know they're going to come out hard and they're fans are going to be highly involved."
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said no one on the team is thinking about winning the Cup on home ice, something that might have been a distraction in Game 4.
"Obviously, the fans would love for us to win it here, and we love playing in front of them," Doughty said. "But we've got to put all of that in the back of our minds. It's not about that. It's about playing as a team and winning as a team. Whether we win it in New Jersey or L.A., it really doesn't matter to us.
"We just want that thing so bad, and we've going to do whatever it takes."
NOTES: The team that has scored first in this series has won all five games. .... Brodeur's win on Saturday was his 17th in Cup final history, tying him with Billy Smith of the Islanders for sixth in league history, one behind boyhood idol Patrick Roy, who played for Montreal and Colorado, and eight away from all-time leader Jacques Plante of the Canadiens. Brodeur is in the final for the fifth time. ... New Jersey captain Zach Parise's power-play goal in Game 5 was the Devils' first in the series. They are now just 1-for-17 with the extra man. ... This will be the Kings' first Game 6 this postseason. New Jersey is 2-0 in Game 6s, having beaten the Panthers and Rangers, both in overtime. ... The Kings attempted 60 shots in Game 5, but landed just 26 on goal. The Devils blocked 20 and Los Angeles missed the net 14 times. New Jersey attempted 38 shots, with 19 landing on goal. ... The Devils have played three other Game 6s in Cup history: 2000, 2001 and 2003, going 1-2.