Kings coach Terry Murray stood behind the podium for his post-game press conference, drained and disappointed, but also a tad incredulous after the Vancouver Canucks beat his team 4-2 in Game 6 of their series, eliminating them from the playoffs.
"I still feel we should have won this game," Murray said. "We played hard and I felt we deserved it at the end of the night, even though I'm standing here at the end of a loss, I thought we'd be going back for a game 7."
And Murray had a ready answer for why the Kings won't be making that trip.
"Two of the best players in the league did it," he said. "The Sedin line was tremendous. They won the series, they won the game. They made the difference and that's what the best players are supposed to do."
Roberto Luongo was also sensational in tonight's game, making an are-you-kidding-me, on his back, sprawling stab of a Ryan Smyth shot from the slot that would have given the Kings a 2-0 lead past the halfway mark of the second period.
"Obviously, I thought it was in the net," said Smyth, "right in the slot, shooting the puck, right in the middle of the net and he throws his glove up. Would have been 2-0 at the time and it hurts, it's tough to swallow that one."
"That was a big save," said Anze Kopitar. "I was right there. I had the front seat. I was right on top of the crease when he made that save. It was great save, obviously, it gave them some momentum, threw a spark in there and they got the next goal."
Not only the next goal, but three more after the Kings had taken a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. As was the case on Wednesday night in Game 4, the Kings had a one goal lead and were 20 minutes away from a win. And as was the case on Wednesday, they couldn't close the deal.
First, there was the bad angle five-hole goal by Kevin Bieksa that tied up the game early in the third and then, the killer, a broken stick blast from the point with just over two minutes left in regulation. It bounces around in the zone, leads to some deft passing by the Canucks and, finally, on the stick of Daniel Sedin, who buries it for what turns out to be the game winning goal.
"The defenseman comes in, breaks his stick, the puck flutters around and it ends up being the winning goal," said Murray. "But if that stick doesn't break, it probably gets through to the goaltender, may go over the net, something different happens, that's for sure."
But not on this night.
"We had games in our grasp and that's what hurts," said Dustin Brown, "but from a team standpoint I'm happy with how we played as a group. I'm proud of the group and how we played, but it's a whole other level from the regular season. This is a learning experience for everyone. You have to experience it and that's part of the process."
Somebody asked Murray if this might be one of those necessary steps for a young team, where the guys have to learn how to lose before they can win. The great Islander teams of the early 80s went through it before they won four straight Cups, ditto for Wayne Gretzky and his Edmonton Oilers before they went on their run in the mid-80s.
"I guess I'm from the older school," said Murray, " because I do believe in that. This is a wonderful experience for your future. Come back to it, revisit it in a few days and think about what you just went through, to be able to draw some positives and some things that are going to benefit you as a player in the future."
And speaking of the future, Murray was asked which of the kids from the Kings AHL team in Manchester, NH might make it to the big club for next season.
Would you believe, none?
"I'm not throwing any of our guys out of this group," Murray said. "We got a solid group of guys in that locker room. They played very hard for each other all year long, competed hard. I want all of them back. I love this group of guys."
Then Murray told a story about his old coach Fred Shero, of the great Philadelphia Flyers teams of the early 70s.
"When I went to the Flyers training camp," said Murray, "Fred Shero would say every position is open and they just won two Stanley Cups! Well, there are no positions open here. If anybody is going to make it, it'll have to be earned the right way, with playing the game hard and with the Los Angeles Kings style of hockey."
The message is clear: These guys took a big step this season, an even bigger step in the post-season. And the clear expectation is that they'll be taking an even bigger step in 2010-11.