Kopitar the Overtime Hero in Game 1
It didn't matter that the Kings had eight days off between series. It didn't matter that it took overtime, the first that was not a series clincher for the Kings in this postseason. The Kings proved that they were still comfortable on the road.
In Newark in the first overtime period, Justin Williams got the last two Devils' defenders to collapse towards him at the red line before making the pass that connected with Anze Kopitar streaking down the middle.
"Yeah, we made a little bit of a bad read," Devils' head coach Peter DeBoer admitted. "There were a couple decisions there."
From there it was a one-on-one matchup. It was the newcomer versus the grizzled veteran, the rising Kopitar versus the heralded Martin Brodeur. Kopitar made a couple of moves to get Brodeur to fall to the ice leaning to his right, shot underneath Brodeur's right leg pad and won the game for the Kings 2-1 8:13 into the first overtime period.
"Every time you get the chance to finish it off in OT, you know, to face a world class goaltender like Marty is, it's definitely a good feeling," Kopitar said.
But Kings' head coach Darryl Sutter was ever the steady operator.
"We won one on the road now," Sutter said. "Season started today, tonight."
So it went for the Kings' second Stanley Cup Finals win in their franchise history, their first since June 1, 1993, as they marched on in their improbable playoff run.
And one cannot speak of the improbable with the Kings without mentioning Colin Fraser. When Kings' General Manager Dean Lombardi dealt Ryan Smyth to Edmonton, Lombardi contended that Edmonton misrepresented the extent of Fraser's leg injury.
It's only natural then that Fraser would be the player to score the first goal in the Stanley Cup Finals midway through the first period making him the 16th skater out of 20 who have appeared in the playoffs to score a goal.
"Scoring a goal anytime is good," Fraser said. "I don't consider it my number one role, but obviously I want to pitch in where I can."
The game to that point had been choppy at best with six whistles blowing play dead in the first three minutes. The Kings then started to dominated later in the first and throughout the second period until the final minutes.
Patrick Elias started the scoring play on a centering pass through the crease got blocked out to Anton Volchenkov in the left circle. Volchenkov made the initial shot into Kings' netminderr Jonathan Quick with a lot of white Kings' sweaters hanging out in front of the crease. Here a bounce, there a bounce, the puck went off of Kings' defenseman Slava Voynov's body and past Quick to tie the game with 1:12 left in the second period.
"It's a bounce," Quick said. "That's part of the game."
This wasn't what would be described as an offense-laden game, the Kings outshooting the Devils by a 25-18 margin. Neither power-play was a factor, the Devils empty in their two chances while the Kings were shut down in their lone chance.
Nevertheless the Kings extended their NHL-record road winning streak in one postseason to nine games and 11 straight games going back to last postseason.
"I think we've out-worked teams," Quick said trying to explain their road mentality.
"Every time you get on the road you need a team effort," Kopitar added. "It showed again tonight. We had four lines going, six defensemen. Jonathan was great at net for us again. We've got to continue doing that."
Now the Kings are exactly where they were in 1993 — three wins away from the Stanley Cup. Given history, sticks are probably being measured right now. Teams that have won Game 1 since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1939 have won it all in 55 of 72 seasons (76.4%). But the Kings know what it's like to be one of those 18 teams. Not to mention the loser of Game 1 has won the Cup in two of the last three seasons.
So onto Game 2 Saturday night.