Kings Take First Game in Finals

It’s not so often you find yourself stuck in an elevator for ten minutes with Darren Dreger and former NHL defenseman Aaron Ward.  But that was the start of my night at Prudential Center during Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Legendary Devil Ken Daneyko had just gotten off the elevator a floor below.  The internal doors opened to the next floor, but then the external doors would not budge.  The elevator refused to move.  Dreger then decides to take a picture of this crazy moment and mentions the movie “Devil,” a story written by M. Night Shyamalan about the Devil killing everyone on an elevator.

Of course, the irony here is that we’re in Prudential Center to watch the New Jersey Devils host the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.  For me, getting stuck in the elevator for the first time ever at Prudential Center meant it was going to be bad news for the Devils in Game One.

It ends up that eerie feeling was correct.  The LA Kings took Game One in overtime with a breakaway goal from Anze Kopitar to give the Kings a 2-1 win.  This win marked their 11th straight road win dating to the 2011 postseason, a playoff record.  They are currently 9-0 on the road this year.

The Kings also posted their first Stanley Cup Final overtime win in franchise history.

According to NHL statistics, “Since the NHL introduced the best-of-seven format in 1939, teams winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the championship in 55 of 72 seasons (76.4%). However, the Game 1 loser has gone on to win the series in two of the past three years (2009 Pittsburgh, 2011 Boston).”

As for major career milestones, this game marked Martin Brodeur’s 200th appearance in the playoffs, becoming the 20th player in NHL history, and just the second goaltender (Patrick Roy, 247), to reach the 200-game milestone.

For those watching the Devils in this first game of the Stanley Cup Finals, so many thought the Devils would play just like they did in their last game versus the New York Rangers.  If the Devils came out and played the Kings like they did in their last win, there would be no stopping them.

But that wasn’t the case.  Like their last two rounds, the Devils tend to feel the other team out in Game One before deciding how they will approach the series.  That tactic usually ends in a loss, but they go on to win the series.  This first game against the LA Kings was no different for them.

“We didn’t make tangible changes,” coach Peter DeBoer said of how they approached this series.  “We fixed what we felt went wrong. I think when I look back at our playoff trail, you know, one of the areas that’s cropped up in every round is we’ve been a little tentative in the first game, you know, kind of felt our way, and then jumped in with both feet in Game 2.  I think that’s hopefully what we’ll do here again.”

“I think when you get past that first game, it is a series,” Travis Zajac said.  “You get that all out of the system.  I think as the game went on, we did get better.  We started to make some more plays.  We started to play our aggressive style.  So I think we take the positive out of that and we move on…We’ll be better the next game.”

“I don’t think significant changes were made,” Ryan Carter said of the Devils’ style going into the Stanley Cup Finals.  “Learned from the games, moved forward.  You know, we’ve been tested, I guess, throughout those playoffs in situations where we’ve been behind in series and things like that.  I anticipate this being no different, we learn from that last game, move forward.  We’ve got confidence in that locker room.  I think that will hopefully show next game.”

Even though both teams agreed that with they played on very choppy ice, which you will find anywhere this time of year, they also both played their worst game.

What did the Devils learn from this first game?

“They’re a good team,” DeBoer said.  “You know, they played a good road game.  They came out, they press you.  They don’t give you a lot of time and space.  They’re big.  They’re fast.  They’ve got a good goalie.  The scouting report we had on them was exactly what we saw.”

What went wrong in this game for the Devils?

“You know, the word is ‘execution’ for me” DeBoer said.  “Our execution was poor in a lot of areas.”

“Execution is one of those areas,” Carter said. “I think nerves, jitters, ice.  I don’t know.  You can point to a couple different areas.  I think at times we were careless with the puck a little bit and got away from what got us where we’re at, turning it over and not making the plays that we’re used to making.  That created a little momentum for them, some room.  You can’t give that up this time of year.”

“Anytime a team gives up a two-on-one or a breakaway, there’s obviously a mistake,” Carter said of the overtime goal.  “They’re few and far between.  You have to be careful.  We had our chances in that game.  Outplayed or not, poor execution or not, we had our chance to win that game.  We’ve got to look into that, stay positive, try to find a way to win the next one.  That’s what’s most important.”

“We were watching a little bit,” Zajac said of the dismal forecheck.  “We weren’t reacting quick enough.  We just didn’t execute in a lot of areas.  We didn’t execute well enough in our dumps, on our routes.  We didn’t win enough battles to keep pucks alive, keep the forecheck going.  Like I said, we can execute in more areas and we’ll have more success.”

What do the Devils have to do better?

“Well, we got to start from the beginning getting pucks behind their D,” Zajac responded.  “They stand up well.  They got back pressure all the time from their forwards.  For us, we have to get pucks behind them and go to work.  You look at the other series, Philly, Rangers, we were able to create some offense from off our cycles, from going high to low, to the points, getting traffic, getting shots in net.  We definitely didn’t do enough of that yesterday.  So we’ll have to execute I guess in that part of our game.  Hopefully everything else will take care of itself.”

“I think the execution, too, we kind of sat back, waited to learn them a little bit,” Carter said.  “That obviously is a mistake.  We should have gone out there and played our game.  We’ll take today and tomorrow, watch the video, learn from it.  They’re a good group.  They’ve got some strong D, obviously a good goaltender.  We got to find ways to keep the puck away from the goaltender, get our forecheck going, get back to our game.  I think we’ll learn quite a few things from that last one.”

“There’s a little bit of feeling out, I think, early on in the game,” Zajac said of Game One.  “It’s weird.  You don’t really see the Kings too often.  You don’t really know what to expect.  But, you know, as the game went on, it was like playing any other team.  I think from the start of the game, we’ll be better next game.  We’ll have to be.  They’re a good team.  They got a lot of contributions from every line throughout the playoffs and all their D.  It’s going to be a good test for us.”

DeBoer mentioned that after Game One, Lou Lamoriello spoke to the team about settling down and playing this game like it’s just a regular game and not letting the thoughts of “It’s the Stanley Cup Finals” get to them.  After all, for many of the players in there, this is their very first Stanley Cup Finals.  They’ve had dreams of being in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals and scoring the game winning goal.  That’s how they played hockey when they were kids, always imagining it was Game Seven.

Now that the dream is coming true for both teams, everyone is just a little bit scared and a little bit nervous.  When dreams come true, you can’t help but feel scared to death, nervous, and in complete and utter awe that the moment you’ve been waiting for your entire life has finally arrived.

This is why they’ve worked hard every single day to become a better hockey player than they were the day before.  This is why they sign with clubs they believe will win.  This is why they are professional athletes.  It’s all for the glory of hoisting the Stanley Cup.  That moment is now.

“We’re playing to win the game,” DeBoer said after the Game One loss.  “I don’t make any apologies for that.”

[All statistics provided by NHL.]

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