NEWARK – When Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, legendary baseball writer Joe Trimble of the New York Daily News described Larsen as, “the imperfect man who pitched the perfect game.”
Fifty-six years later, on the NHL’s biggest stage, the Los Angeles Kings are becoming hockey’s version of Don Larsen. They were anything but the perfect team for 82 games during the regular season. They came into the playoffs on fumes as the second-lowest scoring team in the league. They looked like cannon fodder for the Presidents’ Trophy winner and defending champion of the Western Conference.
But since then, they’ve been perfect – perfect in goal, perfect on the road, perfect in overtime and perfect in absolutely crushing the spirit of their opponents. With their 2-1 overtime win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, the Kings are now 4-0 in the second games of their series and have outscored their opponents 15-5.
And even though the Kings haven’t won anything yet and the Devils aren’t out of this thing by any stretch of the imagination, it’s hard to imagine the Kings dropping four of the next five games. And history is not exactly on the Devils side either. Only twice in NHL history and not since the 1966 Montreal Canadiens has a team lost the first two games of the Stanley Cup final at home and come back to win the series. In fact, now it looks like the only thing that can stop the Kings from establishing the all-time record for playoff wins on the road – they tied it with their 10th in Game 2 – is the Kings themselves. They might not let themselves have a chance for the mark if they win the next two games at the Staples Center.
They’re making it look easy, even though it’s not.
“Tonight was heavy lifting,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “It was along the boards. Their defense are coming down. Quite honest, for probably a good part of two periods, they were controlling that part of the boards. Hey, you know what? We’ll have our work cut out going home.”
The Kings got their first goal from Drew Doughty, future Norris Trophy winner, and their overtime goal from Jeff Carter, the man they acquired at the trade deadline for games and situations exactly like this one. The Devils, meanwhile, have two goals in this series – one from defenseman Anton Volchenkov that actually went in off Slava Voynov’s shoulder and the other from fourth-liner Ryan Carter. Anze Kopitar scored the game winner in Game 1 for the Kings.
We bring you this obvious information to provide you with some obvious analysis. The reason the Kings have a stranglehold on this series is simple. Their best players are totally and completely outplaying the Devils star players. Ilya Kovalchuk, where art thou? The $100 million man has two shots so far in this series and seems to be passing up shots constantly to dish the puck off. It’s almost as though he doesn’t want to shoot the puck. It’s almost as though he’s hiding one of those ubiquitous playoff injuries. And if he’s not, he’d better look very hard at the tape of the first two games and make a conscious decision to get his compete level up to where it needs to be. After the game, Kovalchuk called the Devils power play “embarrassing.” He might want to attach that particular adjective to his own play in the final.
“We played a much better game tonight,” said Devils coach Peter DeBoer. “We spent more time in their end of the ice, got more shots through to the net, got more point shots. We just executed better tonight than we did in Game 1.”
And still, it wasn’t enough. Some of the credit for that has to go to the Kings, who continue to make the best teams in the league look very ordinary. And as good as Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has been – and he has been terrific – the Devils simply are not making life difficult enough for him. They got some tips and traffic, but far too many shots went directly into Quick’s breadbasket.
The Kings are also killing the Devils in the transition game. In fact, the winner was scored off the transition on a bad change by the Devils. Much of the pattern for this series so far is the Devils get the puck in the Kings end, control the play along the boards and get a reasonable chance, then the Kings come back and have a Grade A opportunity off the rush. Both the Kings goals were scored either directly or indirectly off the rush by two of their best players. And they dominated the Devils in overtime, outshooting them by a mind-boggling 11-3 margin.
And because of that, the Kings are two games from fulfilling their destiny.
“We know we’re in a pretty good spot,” Kopitar said. “But we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
1. Jonathan Quick: Quick stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced and his body was where Devils scoring chances went to die for much of the night.
2. Marek Zidlicky: After a so-so performance in Game 1, the Devils defenseman was a beast in Game 2, earning an assist on the Devils goal and keeping offensive plays alive all night with great plays on the blueline.
3. Jeff Carter: He showed the poise of a goal scorer on the overtime winner and was a difference maker in an enormous game.
The Black Hole(s): Kovalchuk’s struggles have been well documented. The effort has generally been there for Zach Parise, but he has nothing to show for it.
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.