Photo by Frank Franklin III/AP
NEWARK, N.J. – For a member of the Los Angeles Kings, a whirlwind season may have reached its pinnacle.
Kings center Jeff Carter scored his first career game-winning overtime goal as Los Angeles took a commanding 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night. And for Carter, whose last eleven months have been full of turmoil, it was a defining moment in a career.
“This was by far the biggest,” said a smiling Carter. “It’s my first playoff overtime goal. It’s a huge one, a big one for the team, and it gets us a two game lead going back home, right where we wanted to be coming in.”
“Good to see him score,” added Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “Marty [Devils goaltender Martin Broduer] made some highlight saves tonight, against good shooters, so it was good to see him score. He’s a goal scorer. You count on him to score big goals.”
In a polar opposite of game one, it was the Devils who got off to a hot start. Clearly desperate to avoid heading back to Los Angeles in an 0-2 hole, New Jersey forechecked tenaciously, forcing Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick to make some big saves, including on an early power play. But the Devils could not break through.
The differences between the opening game of the series ended at 7:49 when Drew Doughty evoked memories of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final for Devils fans, but in a bad way. After collecting the puck behind his own net, the 22 year-old defenseman stickhandled his way through the New Jersey defense and ripped a shot into the far corner over Brodeur’s shoulder.
“I just saw some ice in front of me and decided to skate with the puck,” said 2010 Norris Trophy finalist. “I don’t know who the D man was but I tried to use him as a screen…Marty’s got that quick glove so I decided to put it blocker side. Didn’t even know it went in, actually. Thankfully, it did.”
“It’s a great play,” added Sutter. “You know what, it’s a 200 foot play. One of them coast-to-coasters. You’ll look at it a lot of times…win or lose tonight, that’s a great play.”
Despite their goal, the Kings were not able to get any type of sustained attack on the home team. New Jersey continued to draw penalties, and even though Los Angeles’ methodical penalty kill kept the home side from scoring with an extra man, they could not keep the Devils from carrying over their momentum. Through the first intermission, the Kings were heavily outplayed, and lucky to be down one.
“Yeah it’s tough, but you can’t feel sorry for yourself,” said Devils coach Peter DeBoer. “We played a much better game, I knew we would respond and we did in the right way.”
The score would remain tied through the end of the second period, with the Devils continuing to have the majority of the chances – reaching their shot total from all 68 minutes in game one, 18, with 2:45 remaining in the middle frame. However, Quick continued to carry over his stellar form, refusing to allow his opponents to get a goal for their efforts.
Only three minutes into the third period, that would change. Capitalizing on a good forecheck that was ignited by some line changes, the puck came out to Marek Zidlicky up high.
“It was just a shot in the arm, to try and score a goal,” said DeBoer of his line changes. “We haven’t scored enough, obviously.”
Ryan Carter deflected the resulting shot in front of the net and was able to get it past Quick, who had to deal with deflections all night.
The Devils used their goal to their full advantage, getting their fans into a game that they had previously been absent on. The Prudential Center faithful were on their feet and giving their team a standing ovation after almost every play. The energy was flowing and New Jersey was relentless, but Quick recovered nicely to keep his team from falling behind for the first time in the series.
Despite some chances fueled by power plays and four-on-four action in the final three minutes of the period, the game would remain tied through 60 minutes. That set up the second overtime in the first two games, the first time that has happened in a Stanley Cup Final since 1951.
Carter would then come through at the 13:42 mark of the first overtime, skating to the middle of the ice from behind the net before ripping a shot across his body and past Brodeur.
“It was a great play by the D, I think it was Marty [Alec Martinez] to get it up quick and just tried to turn and get it to the net,” Carter said of the goal. “I was actually trying to hit Penn’s [Dustin Penner’s] back door there, and it kind of popped out to me and I just tried to get it on net. Playoff hockey, you just put it on net as much as you can. It’s usually a cheesy goal.”
“We had five guys collapsed around the net,” said DeBoer. “They found a way to get a puck through.“
With the Kings’ game two victory, it certainly appears as though the Stanley Cup is theirs to lose. Since the current format was implemented in 1939, only two teams choked away the Finals after winning the first two games of the series on the road. But for a Kings team that has thrived in this postseason about making every game separate, that is the furthest thing from their minds.
“We gotta reset and focus,” Doughty said. “We gotta go back to LA like the series is just starting, we got home ice advantage, and we want to take those first two at home. We’re happy we got those first two, but on the plane tonight, we sort of have to forget about it. Going back home, it’s whole new series.”
“Tonight was heavy lifting,” concurred Sutter. “It was round a long, around the boards, their defense are coming down, and to be quite honest for two periods, their D are controlling that part of the boards, so we got our work cut out going home. They [the Devils] played hard. We gotta go home, and play at home. I’d hate to say we went undefeated on the road.”
At this point, it looks like Sutter might have to say that, after all.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who is credentialed to cover the 2012 Stanley Cup Final for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.