Staples Center was so quiet, you could have heard a tooth drop. The Kings looked so exhausted, it was if they were skating through a natural nightmare.
"Sometimes … it's quicksand," said Trevor Lewis.
That was Wednesday's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final for the heavily favored hometown guys. It was quicksand. They were churning, then they were sinking, and their fans were mostly staring.
Early in the game, Bailey, the team's 6-foot-4 lion mascot, felt compelled to hold up a sign that read "Stand up, it's the Cup," as if to remind everyone suffering from an apparent Blackhawks hangover that this new series was, like, way more important. Late in the game, the Kings required the services of videotaped cheerleader Will Ferrell to remind the crowd of their favorite three-word chant.
But the entire evening felt like Go-Kings-Stop. This didn't seem like two years ago. This didn't even seem like two weeks ago. This Kings team that trailed the New York Rangers and royal goalie Henrik Lundqvist by two goals before eventually forcing an overtime looked as if it had finally run out of breath.
Then suddenly the chant, as it has done throughout the past six weeks, changed again with a play that defined not only a team, but could eventually define a series.
Barely four minutes into overtime, the Rangers' Dan Girardi tried to clear the puck out of the Rangers' zone. He whiffed. Mike Richards controlled the loose puck and passed to Justin Williams, who swatted it past Lundqvist and into a building-shaking roar that could echo into next week.
It is not enough to say the Kings simply won Game 1 in overtime, 3-2. This was no mere win. This was theft. This was escape. This is one the Rangers could remember long into the summer. This might have been their best chance to control this series, and it floated away from them like that puck off Girardi's stick, and today the Kings are fighting to keep from smiling.
"We keep playing like that, it's going to bite you in the you know what," said Lewis.
Oh, but this game didn't even leave a mark, and did you know that 77% of the teams that have won Game 1 of the Final have eventually won the Cup?
"We didn't do a lot of things right, that's not the way we want to play," said Drew Doughty.
Yeah, well, they did at least three things right, and did you know the last two teams to win Game 1 of the Final in overtime have won the Cup, including the Kings two years ago against the New Jersey Devils?
"We certainly don't want to make a habit out of this," said Williams.
"A lot of things were going awry during the game. We certainly have to clean that up."
Yet afterward, the only thing that required cleaning up was the Rangers smoldering dressing room, filled with guys with the vacant eyes of someone who had just been sucker punched.
"It's disappointing," said Lundqvist, pulling his Rangers baseball cap low over his wet hair. "We were that close."
How must the greatest goalie in the world feel after stopping 20 Kings shots in the third period alone, after stopping 40 of 43 shots overall, and still skating away with fans jeering his slumped form? Lundqvist unblinkingly acknowledged that on the final duel with Williams, he blinked first.
"I felt like I was patient, but I still made the first move, I probably could play that a little better," he said.
"It always easy to look back and have the right answer."