Kings take Game 4 loss to Rangers as learning experience

Henrik Lundqvist, Dustin Brown, Ryan McDonagh, Marian Gaborik

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist makes a save in front of defenseman Ryan McDonagh, second right, as Kings teammates Dustin Brown, left, and Marian Gaborik try to get to the puck during the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 11, 2014)

The Kings had a long flight home from New York, where a line of slush on Madison Square Garden's notoriously bad ice became a wall between them and two goals that might have sent them back Wednesday with the Stanley Cup as a special passenger.

Some players killed time on the plane by discussing whether to skate Thursday or just work out. Most slept.

"I had a good Chilean sea bass," Jarret Stoll reported. "It was good. Didn't have any wine. Had some Gatorade."

His meal came with no sour grapes.

Yes, the Kings would have liked to have completed a sweep of the Rangers and to have had the Cup aboard with them. But true to how they've handled good times, bad times, and everything in between, players took the missed opportunity as a lesson and vowed to be better Friday at Staples Center, where they will get a second chance to secure their second championship.

Their confidence has not been dented, they said, by a game in which they outshot and outplayed the Rangers and came up short for reasons they believe can easily be remedied.

"We're fine. Totally," Stoll said Thursday. "We just realize we've got to play a full game. This time of year, against a good team, in the Stanley Cup Final, you can't play 30 minutes or 40 minutes. Especially when you're down.

"We've got to come out and have a good first 20 minutes, really have a good push, just play our game, our way, our style, and go from there."

Their only regret about Game 4 is they didn't press the issue from the start and instead let the Rangers use their speed up front to its best advantage.

"I thought everyone was ready for the game," center Mike Richards said. "We just, for whatever reason, whether it was nerves or what it was, that first 15, 20 minutes wasn't the best of our season, which it probably should have been."

They didn't sustain much pressure on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist until the third period, when they unleashed 15 shots — including the Tanner Pearson deflection that nestled into the slush in the crease instead of trickling into the net. That was a sequel to Anton Stralman's first-period sweep off the goal line of a slush-slowed puck after a scramble in front.

The Rangers interpreted those two pivotal plays as an improvement in their puck luck, their ability to benefit from the kinds of bounces that didn't go their way in the first three games. The Kings don't buy that theory.

"Puck luck is for cop-outs. I don't believe in that at all," right wing Justin Williams said. "I'm a true believer that you get what you put into it. And [Wednesday] night we simply weren't good enough and we didn't get paid off. In the grand scheme of things, we need to be better in Game 5 than we were in Game 4.

"Better in terms of finishing, better in terms of forechecking, better in terms of little things. Finishing checks. Just every little aspect of the game."

Stoll agreed that what seems to be luck is often the product of exertion.

"You work for your bounces. You work for your luck," he said. "How many times have we seen in the playoffs, in the regular season, any time, where pucks are going off legs and elbows and gloves and shins, whatever, to go in the net? You've got to work to get there. That's how you get your bounces and your luck."

Game 5 will be the Kings' league-record-tying 26th postseason contest, a grueling road that began April 17. They've made comebacks and they've made history, but they're ready for it to end Friday with a celebration.

"It's been long but it's good," winger Tyler Toffoli said. "You want to be playing this long. You want to be playing this time of the year, and to be here it's pretty surreal, but I think it's time to keep staying focused and just win."

Or, as late Raiders owner Al Davis was famous for saying, "Just win, baby."

"I have confidence in this team in every aspect and every facet of hockey," Williams said. "And we'll be ready. We know what's at stake. We don't want to go back there. It's a long plane ride."

And Stoll can get his Chilean sea bass somewhere else, accompanied by something more festive than a sports drink.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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