Photo by Frank Franklin III/AP
NEWARK, N.J. – These are the kind of goals you dream about.
Anze Kopitar scored on a breakaway at 8:13 of the first overtime period and Jonathan Quick made 17 saves as the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in game one of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night.
“Feels great,” said Kopitar of his goal. “Every time you get the chance to finish it off in OT and face a world-class goaltender like Marty, it’s definitely a good feeling.”
“We made a mistake, they capitalized,” lamented Devils head coach Peter DeBoer.
But for a contest that had such a climactic ending, the first 40 minutes, though they included a goal by each team, were rather dull and slow. There were zero shots on goal by either team in the first four and a half minutes of the game, something that could be expected from two teams who pride themselves on defense.
“There wasn’t much going on offensively for either team,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “We’re playing in such tight quarters out there. Both are very good defensive teams first.”
“I thought we came out a little tentative,” added DeBoer. “That’s to be expected, I guess, for a Stanley Cup Finals game. I thought we got better as the game went on, but that’s a team you have to play 60 minutes against.”
As they have done so often in these playoffs, it was the Kings who struck first. Los Angeles forward Jordan Nolan won a battle down low on the forecheck, which was tenacious for the visitors all night long. After securing the puck, Nolan fed it out in front to a waiting Colin Fraser, who whipped it past the leg of an unsuspecting Martin Brodeur for a 1-0 lead at 9:56.
“You want to get out as hard as you can,” Kopitar said. “Especially on the road, you have to get a good start, and we got the first goal, which was huge for us. After that we got legs underneath us, and we were able to generate some chances.”
After the Kings’ goal, however, it was the Devils who turned up the heat. Using a power play as a springboard, the home team created some great opportunities for themselves in the attacking zone, but came up short.
The lead would remain with the Kings until late in the second period. Following a sustained bit of pressure on Quick’s net, the American goaltender tried to clear a puck, but the Devils intercepted the puck at the blue line and brought it back in on the attack. Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov threw the puck in front, where it deflected off the rear end of Los Angeles blueliner Slava Voynov and into the top corner of the goal with only 72 seconds left in the period.
“It’s a bounce,” said Quick. “It’s part of the game. I felt like I played it the right way, I was trying to get it in the corner or over the glass, maybe get a whistle. I don’t know who it hit, but it hit somebody, and it ended up in the back of the net.”
Feeding off their late score in the second period, the home team came out hard in the final frame of regulation. They looked to have taken the lead in the early stages when Parise knocked one home off a net mouth scramble, though the goal was waved off on the ice. After review, the call was confirmed after it became apparent that Parise swiped the puck in with his hand. New Jersey continued to push for the tie-breaking goal, but Quick, and a few rolling pucks, kept the score at 1-1 through the end of regulation – with a little help from the greatest goaltender ever, as Brodeur made two sparking saves, including a vintage pad stack, in the late stages of the third to preserve the tie.
“Marty made two huge saves in the third period there,” said Sutter. “And that’s what the goalies are here for, right? It’s not one or the other, and both are going to have to make big saves.”
The game would remain tied through the end of 60 minutes, forcing overtime and setting the stage for Kopitar’s winner.
“The battle was just inside our zone,” Kopitar said. “I think Brownie [Dustin Brown] chipped the puck out to Justin [Williams] and I just wanted to make sure I stayed in the middle. Worked out pretty well after that. You know, it happened pretty quick. I was able to finish it off.”
With game one now in the hands of the Kings, the Devils have faced themselves with a tall task if they are to win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in the last 20 seasons. Since the current format was adopted in 1939, the team that has won game one has gone on to win the Stanley Cup 76.4% of the time. But for DeBoer, whose Devils have rebounded from game one losses in their last two series, the issue is not the past, but the present.
“The good news is we started in the same hole against Philly, we started in the same hole against the Rangers,” DeBoer said. “We responded to the situation in the right way the last two rounds, and I expect the same. I think our group is pretty good at self-analyzing…I think we’re going to have to find another level. I feel we have another level.”
They had better. Losing game two at home and heading back to LA in a 2-0 hole is not something the Devils can afford. Still, New Jersey’s coach is confident his team can get it done.
“Looking at the game and realizing both individually and collectively where we have to get better. We have two days to do that and we’ll be better on Saturday night.”
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the 2012 Stanley Cup Final for RockTheRed.net. Follow him on Twitter here.