May 31, 2012
Kings making it look easy
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
NEWARK - So just how will the Los Angeles Kings respond when they face some serious adversity in these NHL playoffs?
We'll have to get back to you on that one.
Yes, it's only one game into the Stanley Cup final, but the Western Conference champions are making it look as simple as imaginable.
And sure, they had to go to overtime to finish off the 2-1 decision over the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night at the Prudential Center, a game decided on Anze Kopitar's flashy breakaway deke of Marty Brodeur at the 8:13 mark.
But with a 9-0 road record in these playoffs and going 13-2 overall, has there ever been a team hotter at such an opportune time?
Of course, it didn't hurt that their opponent fell victim to some Stanley Cup jitters with one of their poorer efforts of the playoffs.
"We didn't deserve to win tonight, overtime or no overtime," Devils forward Patrik Elias said. "We've got to be a lot better than this."
Wednesday's curtain-raiser was far from a thing of beauty for either team as they underwent an elongated feeling out process. The pace picked up in the third period and overtime had the expected element of desperation, but then again, the Kings have clearly mastered the road game plan.
The aggressive forecheck that the Devils used to make it this far was matched and then some by the Kings, and the Los Angeles forwards are so strong down low that New Jersey had trouble controlling the puck.
It resulted in domination by the Kings at times as the Devils had just two shots in the first 13 minutes of the game and didn't get their first of the second period until almost the 15-minute mark.
"The good news is we started the same way against the Rangers (in the Eastern Conference final) and we responded to the situation," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We got better as the game went on, but that's a team you've got to play 60 minutes against."
Trouble is, nobody in the playoffs has yet to devise a proper response to the Kings. Not the top-seeded Canucks in Round 1. Not the No. 2 Blues in Round 2 and certainly not the defensively tight Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference final.
Brodeur, who was expecting a deke from Kopitar on the game-winner, said he sensed some nerves from his Devils teammates, a problem magnified when they saw the talented Kings in the flesh.
"It's the Stanley Cup final, it's not that easy to go out and perform," said Brodeur, who was making his 200th playoff start in a stellar three-Cup career.
"When you play the Western Conference, you don't know much about them. This was a feel-out game for both clubs. We're going to have two days to see what we can change and compete a little better on Saturday."
It's possible to read too much into the opener, especially given the sloppy play from both teams.
Considering how well both are coached, it might be wishful thinking to expect wide stretches of open play throughout.
There isn't a player on either team who has scored more than seven goals all playoffs, and with a combined 43 shots in Game 1, there was no danger of offensive stats being padded.
In the Kings' case, it can be explained in part by the fact that they had played just 14 games, tying the league record for the least amount of games played before making it to the final since all playoff rounds changed to seven-game series in 1987.
The Devils may have the playoffs' leading scorer in Ilya Kovalchuk, but they have been the picture of balance with all four lines contributing.
And so the steady march to a first championship in franchise history continues for Team Hollywood as they have won 10 of their past 11 games and haven't suffered a road defeat since April 22.
The Kings haven't allowed a third-period goal in seven games and can't seem to lose on the road.
So, is there any hope for the Devils?
"We're not going to give up," said Kovalchuk, who was held to a single shot in Game 1. "It's the first game. The fun begins."