NEWARK – Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown was talking about how linemate Justin Williams has flown under the radar in these playoffs when he made a remarkable observation about himself and his team.
“Kopi (Anze Kopitar) draws the most attention and maybe I draw some attention in the playoffs,” Brown said. “Not from a scoring standpoint, but from an ‘I want to kill you’ standpoint.”
One of the reasons the Kings are three wins away from the Stanley Cup is they’ve killed the spirit of their opponents, particularly early in their series. When you scrape your way into the playoffs and finish eighth in your conference, you know you have no choice but to open every series on the road. Instead of using that as an excuse, the Kings have turned it into an advantage by putting teams into impossible situations before they’ve known what has hit them. And it has worked brilliantly as the Kings have given themselves all kinds of margin for error by taking 3-0 leads in all three series they’ve played so far.
Doing the same this time will be a high order, but they are one win away from taking a 2-0 lead back home in the Stanley Cup final. The only difference this time is they feel like they stole the first game when they defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in overtime Wednesday night. You could say both teams enter Game 2 Saturday night in very familiar territory, since the Devils have fallen behind 1-0 for the third straight series.
“We were just happy to get into the playoffs,” Kopitar said. “Obviously our road record shows that we can do it on the road. We just want to keep it going.”
If they do that, the Kings will tie the NHL record of 10 road wins in a playoff season and the only thing that would keep them from having an opportunity to break it would be if they swept the Devils with two wins at home. Nobody’s expecting that to be the case, but nobody expected the Kings would get to the Stanley Cup final with just two losses in three series, either. Right now, the Kings are finding ways to win and that was no more evident than it was in Game 1 of the final, a game they acknowledged was their worst of the playoffs.
“With the travel, our guys were sluggish (in Game 1),” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “That’s an area I thought we were good at…obviously an area we can get better at. We’ll use (Friday’s) practice for that.”
The Devils, meanwhile, will use practice Friday to sharpen their game, which was as shaky as the Kings’ effort in Game 1. Of the two rosters that hit the ice for Game 1, the Kings have four players who were part of Stanley Cup winning teams in Rob Scuderi, Justin Williams, Dustin Penner and Colin Fraser, while the Devils had three in Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Ryan Carter. But the Kings have key contributors in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter who have won at the World Junior Championships, Olympics and the Calder Cup level in the American League and a third-line center in Jarret Stoll who was part of the Edmonton Oilers run to the Stanley Cup final six years ago. Among the Devils, the only other player with Stanley Cup final experience is Anton Volchenkov, who went to the final with the Ottawa Senators in 2007.
So big-game experience actually favors the Kings slightly, despite the Devils long and illustrious playoff history. Perhaps that was a reason why the Devils, almost inexplicably, came into Game 1 with a bigger case of nerves than the Kings did. In fact, Devils coach Peter DeBoer said the tentative play has been something his team has exhibited in every series so far, including the opening round when they took a 3-0 lead on the Florida Panthers in the first 15 minutes and hung on for a 3-2 win.
“I think we need to focus on our game,” said Devils rookie Adam Henrique. “Maybe we were a little nervous coming out at the start of the game. We were throwing pucks away. We weren’t hanging onto pucks, making plays. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement on our side.”
“We were watching a little bit,” said Devils center Travis Zajac. “We weren’t quick enough. We just didn’t execute in a lot of areas. We didn’t execute well in our dumps, on our routes. We didn’t win enough battles to keep pucks alive, keep the forecheck going. We can execute in more areas and we’ll have more success.”
That will be easier said than done against a Kings team that has proved time and again in this year’s playoffs that it truly has something special going. And if they can capture the magic one more time and win on the road Saturday night, they’ll go back home knowing their first Stanley Cup victory in franchise history is all but assured.
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.