NEWARK – With it being almost June and all, you can count on the ice at the Prudential Center being really bad again for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final. But at this point, we’ll have to take both teams at their word when they say they’ll be better Saturday night.
If you were looking for an oil painting in the first game of the final you were probably disappointed. Hugely disappointed. But if you were looking for the work of a true artist in overtime, you got exactly that when Anze Kopitar got the puck on his stick with nobody between him and the net. In a game where the stars were occupying the crease and the worker bees were making an impact for the first 60 minutes, the most talented player on either team was the one to decide the matter when Kopitar scored in overtime in a 2-1 Los Angeles Kings win.
That gives the Kings nine straight wins on the road in this year’s playoffs, but this might have been the most tenuous one of them all. Neither team was particularly good in what turned out to be a scrambly first game, but the Kings are well aware they stole Game 1. The funny thing is, the Devils would have gone home feeling exactly the same thing had they managed to pull out a victory in the game.
“This game is supposed to be hard and it was tonight,” said Kings winger Justin Williams, who made a brilliant pass to spring Kopitar in overtime. “We know that we’re going to be better (in Game 2) and we certainly know we’re going to be better. I thought it was a little bit sloppy at times.”
The fact that the fourth line comprised of Colin Fraser between Brad Richardson and Jordan Nolan was the Kings best for most of the game was both a compliment to that trio and an indictment of the players who cash the biggest paychecks. (“They probably had one of the best games of the playoffs so far,” Kopitar said.) Both teams have made it to the final on the strength of playing four lines and got enormous contributions from their bottom-six forwards, but it will be incumbent upon the top players to raise the level of their games.
(Of course, it’s a tad difficult to do much when you’re getting punched in the head and pinned to the ice in the crease the way Zach Parise did in the second period. The fact that referee Brad Watson was right there and saw the whole thing and decided to not make a call made it very difficult to defend the work of the referees in this league.)
For the Devils, Game 1 will be remembered as one of missed opportunities to put it away and a time when their vaunted forecheck turned against them. On the deciding goal, the Kings were able to break out of their zone because the Devils were a little too aggressive on the forecheck and got caught up ice.
“We made a little bit of a bad read,” said Devils coach Peter DeBoer. “But we’re playing to win the game. I don’t make any apologies for that. We made a mistake and they capitalized.”
DeBoer acknowledged that his team would have to find another level of play, but he also took solace in the fact that his team lost Game 1 to both the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers and went on to win the series.
“Once we got comfortable, we started to play better,” DeBoer said. “But we’ve got to be better than we were (in Game 1). We’ve got two days to do that and we’ll be better Saturday night. It would have been nice to get a bounce, but I don’t believe we deserved to win tonight. If we had won, we would have been sneaking one out.”
1. Martin Brodeur: He was absolutely undressed on the game-winner and allowed a questionable goal in the first period, but in between he was absolutely brilliant. His two-pad stack on Drew Doughty late in the game was outstanding.
2. Colin Fraser: The player the Kings thought was damaged goods when they acquired him from Edmonton for Ryan Smyth last summer anchored the Kings best line and scored his first goal of the playoffs.
3. Anze Kopitar: When you give up a breakaway in overtime, probably the last guy you want to see get it is Kopitar. And like all star players, he delivered big-time in the clutch.
THE BLACK HOLE
Ilya Kovalchuk, who has been the Devils best skater through the regular season and the playoffs, was as close to invisible as possible. He needs to record more than one shot for the Devils to be successful.
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.