NEWARK - The morning after Peter DeBoer's first taste of a Stanley Cup final began early and with a search for answers.
You get the impression the New Jersey Devils coach didn't find them too easily after a depressing morning video session Thursday.
A 2-1 overtime loss Wednesday to the Los Angeles Kings showed little of what got either team to the final in a sometimes dull, often sloppy, start to the championship round.
And herein lies the Devils' dilemma: Given that none of the Kings' three previous opponents have been able to figure them out before a surgically quick exit from the playoffs, the Devils may need to jump into this series in a hurry.
Lose Game 2 Saturday night and this Stanley Cup final might just be as good as over. Win and finally there could be a little glimmer of uncertainty for the amazing Kings who are 9-0 on the road this playoff season.
By his words and body language Thursday morning, however, DeBoer didn't seem any closer to unlocking the puzzle. More than likely, he's trying to figure out whether his own nervous-looking team's effort was the main culprit or whether the Kings were simply as impressive as their 13-2 record thus far in the post-season suggests.
"You want a nice boxed answer on how to fix it," DeBoer said. "It's not that easy, there's no clean answer. I can't box this up and wrap it in one nice little package for you.
"We had a lot of different issues. Some of them you give credit to them for what they did. Some of them were self-inflicted."
Worst of the latter was the series of breakdowns that led to Anze Kopitar's overtime breakaway for the game-winner. There was a partially botched pinch here, a missed check there and suddenly the most dangerous player on the ice had a clear-cut breakaway. Given how tight both teams like to play, it was a shocking turn in a game that often yielded much open ice.
"I was a little surprised," Kopitar said Thursday. "When you play the Devils, there's not usually a lot of room out there, especially in overtime."
Here's what has to be another area of concern for the Devils, who to their credit have been resilient after Game 1 stumbles earlier in the post-season. Although they got the win in Game 1 to keep their crazy roll alive, the Kings weren't exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm at their effort.
Several Kings players referred to the opener as their worst game of the playoffs thus far. If that's true and they take a leap forward Saturday, how much more do the Devils need to do to make it a competitive series?
"I think we kind of feel the same way about our game," New Jersey centre Travis Zajac said. "We didn't play our best. We were a little nervous in the first period, a little tentative.
"For us, we felt that, yeah, we missed an opportunity because we were able to hang around not playing our best game but still have a chance to win."
The question now is are they good enough? The aggressive Devils forecheck that repeatedly forced the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers into mistakes in the previous two series was essentially neutralized by the Kings. A big reason was the speed the Los Angeles defence, led by superstar Drew Doughty, moved the puck out of their own end.
"We're playing with the puck rather than chasing it," Kopitar said.
The Devils were also uncharacteristically weak in winning duels for loose pucks and managed to get precious little traffic in front of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
"We were watching a little bit, not reacting quick enough," Devils rookie forward Adam Henrique said. "I think we have to focus on our team. There's a lot of room for improvement."
And at least the Devils have reacted well to similar situations these playoffs. In the previous two rounds they responded with Game 2 wins after dropping the opener. The stakes are markedly higher now, especially against a team that can't seem to lose.
"(In previous series) we fixed what we felt went wrong," said DeBoer, who gave his team the day off Thursday. "I think when I look back at our playoff trail, one of the areas that has cropped up in every round is we've been a little tentative in the first game, kind of felt our way and then jumped in with both feet in Game 2."