As the tension built inside Staples Center on Wednesday night with Kings fans expecting a Stanley Cup coronation, the rumblings outside the arena provided an almost equal amount of intrigue.
There was legitimate reason for concern. A riot erupted in Vancouver last year after the decisive game of the Cup Final. Lakers championships have resulted in violence outside Staples Center, mostly recently in 2010. And the near fatal beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium last year is still fresh in the local psyche.
Before the game, Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck encouraged fans to celebrate if the Kings won, but warned them about flooding into the downtown area by the arena.
"Do it at an appropriate venue," Beck said. "You're not going to do it on the streets in front of Staples Center."
Obviously not everyone pays attention what the chief of police happens to advise.
Even though the Kings fell short of clinching their first Stanley Cup as the Devils pulled out a 3-1 win, and thus squelching any sort of massive eruption of celebration, the potential was evident.
As the Kings and Devils skated through two scoreless periods before both teams broke through in the third, the Twitter feed dedicated to dispatches on the local emergency frequency -- @LAPDScanner -- provided compelling, if not ghoulish, updates on the developments outside the rink.
The Devils scored first but when the Kings tied it just a minute later on Drew Doughty's power-play strike, the sense in the building was that Los Angeles would complete the comeback and skate with Stanley.
Leave it to Adam Henrique as the guy who spoiled the party.
Or ruined the riot.
Henrique, the Devils rookie, has proven he has a flair for the dramatic. Henrique bagged the series-clinching goals in overtime against the Panthers and Rangers.
Now he netted the winner to extend New Jersey's season at least one more game, showing the kind of clutch play that built the reputations of players such as Chris Drury and ex-Devil Claude Lemieux.
"Great shot," said Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk, an expert on the subject. "Top corner with that kind of timing, five minutes left in the game, it's huge. He's a winner. He's won a couple of Memorial Cups. He knows how to do it, what needs to be done to be successful, and he's doing it. We just need him to score three more overtime goals."
Before heading to the jammed but not-too-violent streets outside the rink, classy Kings fans stood and applauded at the end of the game. With the next game of the series being Saturday in New Jersey, the L.A. fans realized this could have been the last time they see their team in person this season.
Unless, of course, Los Angeles gets to host a victory parade.
For that, check with the police chief or better yet @LAPDScanner for the safest option.
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