NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils played poorly and almost won.
Coach Peter DeBoer’s team looked to turn that into a positive following Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
The Devils overcame a slow start to send the game into overtime, only to see Kings star Anze Kopitar decide the affair on a breakaway.
Thursday was a light day for both teams, with Game 2 not until Saturday. Thursday and Friday night were reserved for concerts by English rock band Radiohead, although the Prudential Center has a separate practice rink attached.
After the loss, the Devils were all reading from the same page.
“Not playing our best game and still having a chance to win, that makes us feel pretty good that we can play better and be a little more successful,” said forward Travis Zajac.
“We had our chances in that game,” added forward Ryan Carter. “Outplayed or not, poor execution or not, we had our chance to win that game. We’ve got to look into that, stay positive, and try to find a way to win the next one.”
Added DeBoer: “We got a chance to get into overtime in the first game with a chance to win.”
Unfortunately for the Devils, the Kings also say they have more to bring.
“We played all right. I think it’s different adjusting to a new team, adjusting to a different building here,” said six-foot-four defenceman Matt Greene, towering over reporters as he stood on a platform in the midst of a mass scrum. “But we’ve got to play better if we want to give ourselves a chance to win another game this series.”
“I think we can be better,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “At the end of the day we found a way to win. It’s about refocusing and being better in Game 2.”
The Devils pointed to poor execution, careless play with the puck and Game 1 jitters. President and GM Lou Lamoriello spoke to the team after the Eastern Conference final about the distractions of the Cup.
The team still felt nerves, however.
“The reality is, you know, until the puck drops and the games start, this is a different situation you’re dealing with,” said DeBoer. “You have to handle it the best you can.”
While acknowledging hindsight is 20-20, the Devils coach said there wasn’t anything he would have done differently in the leadup to the game.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said a lot of his players said they felt sluggish Wednesday.
“I thought we had some nervous players,” he said.
“Our guys felt they can play better,” he added. “That’s a good thing. And I’m sure the other team is saying the same thing too.”
Sutter did say the sluggishness seemed to affect “the top end of our skill set.”
That led him to give more ice time to the line of Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan and Brad Richardson. Fraser opened the scoring in the first period.
“If they’re on, they can play against everybody,” Sutter said. “If you look at it, the goal (they scored) was against Zajac’s line (the Devils top trio of Zajac, Dainius Zubrus and Zach Parise).”
While the two teams only played twice in October during the regular season, DeBoer said the Devils’ scouting report did the Kings justice,
“They’re a good team. You know, they played a good road game. They came out, they press you. They don’t give you a lot of time and space, they’re big, they’re fast, they’ve got a good goalie.”
DeBoer also noted the Devils have a history of making tentative starts to series, then getting back on form in the second game.
“There is plenty to fix en route, he suggested. “We have multiple issues.”
His players are confident the team can make the necessary changes.
“We’ll be better the next game,” promised Zajac.
DeBoer downplayed criticism of the ice surface, saying conditions are usually not great this time of the year and are the same for both teams.