LOS ANGELES -- There were no bottles of champagne or championship shirts and hats waiting for the Los Angeles Kings in their dressing room Wednesday night.
Instead there were 30 or so black travel bags being packed and loaded onto the back of a truck for the team's morning flight to New Jersey.
None of the players wanted to be in Newark this Saturday night, playing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, but they knew the chances were good given their track record this postseason.
If you're looking for one weakness on this Kings team that holds a 15-3 record in the playoffs and has won a Stanley Cup playoffs-record 10 straight road games, look no further than Game 4. The Kings are 1-3 at home in these initial closeout games and have lost them by a combined score of 8-2.
Predicting a Kings loss in Game 4 has become almost as sure a bet as predicting a Kings win in any other game in the series.
Perhaps that's why the Kings took their worst loss of the playoffs since -- you guessed it -- Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, as well as could be expected. They had been here before enough times during the playoffs to know how this script should end.
As much as they would have liked to win the Stanley Cup in front of the home crowd at Staples Center, there is probably a growing feeling among some of the Kings that their magical playoff run began on the road and should end on the road. From Canada's coast to Jersey's shore, these Kings have been perfect away from home and there's no reason to think that run won't continue.
"I'm not going to say it wouldn't have been nice to win at home," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I don't know how the fans feel, but I know I don't care where we happen to hopefully clinch it. It doesn't matter to me."
The Kings' perfect record on the road this postseason is a topic Kings players try to stay away from. They claim they approach each game the same and that games at Staples Center and Prudential Center are no different.
Of course, that's not true. If that were the case, the Kings wouldn't be staying in hotel rooms before home games and conducting team meetings in hotel ball rooms and having morning skates at the arena instead of their practice facility. Kings coach Darryl Sutter has done everything in his power to make home games feel like road games during the playoffs, but that was beyond impossible Wednesday night.
Kings fans packed the streets adjacent to L.A. Live and Staples Center four hours before the game, treating the 5 p.m. start time as an excuse to get out of school or work for the day. A local sporting-goods store sent out a news release on where fans could buy Stanley Cup championship merchandise as soon as the game was over. (Yes, the championship gear was already there in boxes waiting to be opened.) Longtime Kings television announcers Bob Miller and Jim Fox, who have been unable to call playoff games after the first round since games are being exclusively broadcast on a different network, were finally behind the microphone for Game 4, calling the game on a frequency available in the arena. Their call was also going to be taped to be enjoyed later by Kings fans who have been waiting years to hear Miller's Stanley Cup-clinching call.
And, of course, there was the Stanley Cup, which was in the building, waiting to be delivered to Kings captain Dustin Brown if the Kings had won.
"I think it was definitely on our minds, but they found a way to get a late goal," Brown said. "We just have to hit the reset button. We've been in this situation [before] in the playoffs and we've always come back with a big rebound game. We've lost three games and we've always come back and won the next game."
It was an especially frustrating night for Brown, who had five turnovers Wednesday and played perhaps his worst game of the playoffs on a night when he had hoped to become only the second American-born captain to accept the Stanley Cup. After talking to the media, Brown loaded his bags onto the back of a cart parked in the corridors of Staples Center and greeted his family in the hallway outside of the locker room, like many other players on the team.
It wasn't exactly the scene Brown had envisioned when he woke up Wednesday morning, but he knows the ending to this historical run can still be as sweet as his dreams regardless of the location.
"It's disappointing not to win it here in front of our crowd," Brown said. "But we'll go to New Jersey now, and we're comfortable on the road. It doesn't matter if we win it here or there. Maybe there's a little more sentimental value winning on home ice, but if we win it there, we bring it right back here."