By Steve Keating
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With the Stanley Cup inside the Staples Center and celebratory champagne on ice the Los Angeles Kings were set to throw the biggest hockey celebration a city famous for parties has ever seen.
But the National Hockey League's (NHL) championship trophy failed to make an appearance as New Jersey Devils rookie Adam Henrique put the Kings' coronation on hold when he scored the winning goal late in Wednesday's Game Four.
In that instant, a runaway series that had been viewed as a formal coronation turned into somewhat of a nail biter with both teams jetting east for Saturday's Game Five in New Jersey, where the Kings will have another shot at glory.
"We wanted to make them jump on a plane and come to New Jersey," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, whose team trails the best-of-seven series 3-1, said after staving off elimination. "We had to go anyway. Might as well get a game over there."
"I'm sure they're not happy to make that trip. ... We'll try to make it miserable for them again."
While the Kings were not happy about having to head east there were no alarm bells sounding in the Los Angeles dressing, just disappointment at not being able to capture the 45-year-old franchise's first Stanley Cup in front of a record home crowd that included a host of Hollywood A-listers.
In a postseason that has produced a string of records and firsts, if there has been one chink in the Kings' armor it has been an inability to finish off an opponent after getting them on the ropes.
In each of their four playoff rounds the Kings have raced to a 3-0 series lead but were unable to close out their opponents in Game Four on three occasions.
The Kings insist they never lost focus or looked too far ahead during the finals and that it has been the media and fans that have gotten caught up in all the excitement not the team.
"Everyone was putting the cart before the horse. It's a good lesson for us, and a good lesson for the media and the fans," Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene told reporters.
"I said that so you (media) can stop asking (about us winning the Stanley Cup). You guys get real excited, which is human nature, but ..."
Certainly, the odds still heavily favor the Kings, who have been a perfect 10-0 on the road this post-season and arrive in Newark still with a commanding 3-1 lead.
Only once before, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, has a team climbed out of 3-0 hole to lift the Cup and in each of the last four finals the Stanley Cup has been awarded on the road.
After watching their attack sputter through the first three games of the series, the Devils offense started to hum late in Game Four.
Wednesday's three third period goals were more than the Devils scored in the first three games combined and suddenly Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who had gone nearly 139 minutes without allowing a goal, looked ordinary in allowing two tallies in a little over six minutes.
New Jersey's best forwards, who had failed to make an impact in the series were among their best performers in Game Four with captain Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk a constant threat.
"We showed it's not over," said Devils rugged forward David Clarkson, who set up Henrique's game winner. "It's tough when you get a 1-1 game like that going into the last couple of minutes, but we did a great job of not giving up and getting pucks on net and that's the reason we won.
"We are a hard working team and we play with our heart every night and this thing's not over yet."
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Frank Pingue)