LOS ANGELES — The Stanley Cup is back in its crate. The Los Angeles Kings still can’t get their hands on it for the first time.
The New Jersey Devils’ remarkable rookie and their 40-year-old goalie have sent this series home.
Adam Henrique scored the tiebreaking goal with 4:29 to play, Martin Brodeur made 21 saves, and New Jersey beat Los Angeles 3-1 on Wednesday night to avoid a sweep in the Stanley Cup finals.
Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored third-period goals for the Eastern Conference champion Devils, who forced the NHL to pack up the Cup for another cross-country trip. Game 5 is Saturday night in Newark, N.J.
“It’s a tough situation, but we live another day,” Brodeur said. “We wanted to at least have one more game in our building for our fans. Hopefully, we’ll make the best of it and come back here.”
The Kings have won all 10 of their road playoff games this spring and 12 straight overall — both NHL postseason records. But after never trailing in the Stanley Cup finals, the Kings never led in Game 4.
“I think (wrapping it up) was definitely on our minds, but they found a way to get a late goal,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “We’ve just got to hit the reset button. We’ve been in this situation now four times in the playoffs, and we’ve always come back with a big rebound game.”
After two tense, scoreless periods in front of fans hoping to see the Kings win their first title in their 45-year history, Elias scored on a rebound with 12:04 to play — but Drew Doughty scored a tying power-play goal for the Kings 1:02 later.
Henrique then scored his third enormous goal of the postseason, taking a pass from David Clarkson and rocketing a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick, the Kings’ nearly unbeatable goalie. The Calder Trophy finalist ended two of the Devils’ first three playoff series with overtime goals, and he kept New Jersey alive with his latest.
“That’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my whole career,” said Clarkson, who took the questionable penalty that led to Doughty’s goal. “I saw (Henrique) coming, so I got it to him, and the shot was incredible.”
Quick stopped 21 shots for the Kings, but lost his streak of nearly 139 shutout minutes right when he probably could have wrapped up the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The Kings had allowed just one third-period goal in their previous nine games.
Kovalchuk added an empty-netter that sent fans streaming forlornly out into a warm evening in Southern California — and put the Devils back on their plane with a chance.
“We stayed alive,” said Elias, who has two of the Devils’ five goals in the series. “Marty had to work hard, but he gave us a chance. All we’ve got to do it keep playing hard.”
With a golden chance for a Hockeywood ending, Los Angeles dropped to 15-3 in its spectacular postseason run, failing to win the franchise’s first championship on its first try — and in its 200th playoff game — in front of the long-suffering fans who have never seen the Stanley Cup.
Los Angeles set an NHL record by taking a 3-0 lead in all four of its playoff series, but failed three times to close out its opponents in Game 4. Vancouver and Phoenix also won Game 4 before losing Game 5.
The Devils became just the sixth of 26 teams in finals history to force a Game 5 after falling behind 0-3. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs ever rallied with four straight wins in the finals, and only three teams in NHL history have done it in any playoff round.
“I think the last three games could have gone our way as easily as they’ve gone L.A.’s way,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “We finally got rewarded tonight.”
After a tight-checking game between two very tight teams, Elias’ rebound goal put a hush over Staples Center. Six seconds after Clarkson went off with that questionable boarding penalty, Mike Richards passed Anze Kopitar’s faceoff win to Doughty, who rocketed a long shot past Brodeur for the fourth goal of his breakthrough postseason.
But after so many minutes of tight defense, New Jersey won it with a stunning goal in transition: Former Kings forward Alexei Ponikarovsky got the puck to Clarkson, who found Henrique across the ice for his first goal since ending the Eastern Conference finals with an overtime goal.
The Kings opened their first Stanley Cup finals in 19 years with two tense overtime victories in New Jersey, surviving largely on the brilliance of Quick. Los Angeles then returned home and routed the Devils 4-0 in Game 3 on Monday night, setting the stage for a celebration.
But the Devils got into the details, and the Kings must regroup.
No surprise given the tremendous stakes, both teams were nervous and jumpy from the opening faceoff in Game 4. Quick got plenty of work early when the Devils got two power plays in the opening minutes, but he made a slick glove save on Petr Sykora’s shot in the slot and later scrambled to cover Zach Parise’s unobstructed rebound chance.
Slava Voynov and Kopitar hit Brodeur’s posts for the Kings in the scoreless first period. Both teams appeared to be as tense as the crowd in the second, with Brodeur making a stellar pad save on Simon Gagne’s breakaway chance late.
The NHL unpacked the Stanley Cup deep inside Staples Center before the third period, but it never saw the ice.
Gagne and Trevor Lewis got an outstanding breakaway chance early in the third, but Brodeur sprawled on his back to stop Lewis. Brodeur mishandled the puck moments later and nearly gave it right to Brown, but the deflection off Brown’s right skate barely missed the net.
Elias finally slipped in on Quick and slapped home a rebound of Bryce Salvador’s shot, putting a pall on the crowd and ending Quick’s scoreless streak at 138 minutes, 39 seconds.
The gloom didn’t last long: Doughty teed up the latest in his long line of booming shots, and Brodeur was at least partly screened by Anton Volchenkov in front.