NEW YORK -- The players' families and friends were herded together in an area of Madison Square Garden after the game Wednesday night, flown in by the Los Angeles Kings just in case it was time to party.
The party is on hold.
But maybe not for long.
If the Kings duplicate the effort from Game 4, they will be crowned Stanley Cup champions at Staples Center on Friday night. Having outshot the New York Rangers 41-19 on this night -- 15-1 in a third period, when mostly only one end of the ice surface was used -- the Kings played another terrific game, but this time the breaks went the Rangers' way by a 2-1 score.
There was no better illustration of that than the puck twice stopping right on the goal line, as if stopped by an imaginary wall. Not sure we've ever seen that before twice in a game.
"I saw it on the JumboTron," Kings star blueliner Drew Doughty said. "There were two like that tonight. That was the difference in the game."
Well, that and a goalie named Henrik Lunqvist playing his best game of the Stanley Cup finals. The Swedish stud was nothing short of sensational for the Rangers, swallowing up rebounds.
Star winger Marian Gaborik, who hit the crossbar in the second period, still felt the Kings could have done more to make Lundqvist's night a little more taxing.
"We could have been better, especially in the hard areas," Gaborik said. "We got a lot of shots, but we could have generated more in front of Lundqvist."
Echoed Kings star center Anze Kopitar: "I think we can do a better job getting to him. I think a couple of times ... we didn't make it tough on him. The pucks were sitting there. But the pucks he's going to see, he's going to stop. That's just how it is."
Giving up a 2-0 lead for the third time in four games in these Cup finals was certainly the downer for the Kings. They can't keep expecting to come back from those holes, even though they nearly did yet again.
But there were plenty of positives. Rookie winger Tanner Pearson seemingly had rocket fuel in his skates, absolutely flying Wednesday night, which is a good sign for a Kings team trying to close it out; one of their more inexperienced players didn't look shy under the weight of his first Cup-clinching opportunity.
"I think you've just got to keep your head in it and realize what's at stake," said Pearson, who led both teams with a whopping eight shots on goal. "There are so many veteran guys on our team that help you keep your head into it. It wasn't that hard.
"At the end of the day, that's what you've got to do, right?" Pearson added. "You can't have your head spinning about what's going on. You just have to go out there and do what got you here in the first place."
This wasn't like two years ago, when the Kings looked unfocused in Game 4 as the New Jersey Devils finally won a game in that series. The Kings were distracted by Cup-clinching party planning and didn't play their best again until Game 6.
No, this was entirely different.
This was a focused, hard-charging Kings team that simply ran into bad luck, with two pucks snowed up on the goal line, as well as the excellent play of Lundqvist. One could easily argue, too, that the hockey gods were paying the Rangers back for coming home from L.A. without a win despite playing just as well as the Kings in a pair of wild overtime losses.
And so the Kings head home, where the magic happened two years ago. They just need to bring the same effort from Wednesday night, minus the 2-0 deficit.
"Team game was good tonight," Doughty said. "We had a lot of good opportunities. We didn't really give up too much against. Both goals were pretty bad bounces against. But the bottom line is that we didn't score goals when we needed to, and that's why we lost the game. ...
"We're going back home," Doughty added. "That's where we won it last time, hopefully we can do the same thing again."