For the third straight series, the New Jersey Devils failed to win the opening game.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, those losses seem to get magnified. Anze Kopitar scored the game-winning goal in overtime, giving the Los Angeles Kings a 2-1 win at the Prudential Center. It marked the ninth straight playoff road victory for the Kings, extending a record they already own. Colin Fraser scored for Los Angeles in regulation.
New Jersey, down 1-0 in the series, will have a chance to split the first two games at home Saturday night.
Even in the loss, New Jersey did some positive things. They'll once again need to make changes - something head coach Pete DeBoer has shown a willingness to do - and claw their way back into a series.
Here now is what went right and what went wrong in tonight's loss:
What Went Right
Brodeur once again leads the section of "What Went Right." The Fraser goal was a soft one, and there were a few adventures outside of his own net. But when Brodeur needed to be good, he met the challenge. In the third period, with the Kings making a push, Brodeur stoned Drew Doughty on an opportunity from the slot, Dustin Penner as he charged the net and a tricky wrist shot from Mike Richards. He stopped 23 of 25 shots tonight, and did all he could to make a highlight-reel save on Kopitar in the overtime session.
Say what you will about his two misses in the first period (more on that later), but Clarkson was one of the best Devils tonight. He threw the body around, went in hard on the forecheck and generated scoring opportunities. The puck wouldn't agree with him tonight, but he fought through that. It earned him 17:04 of ice time tonight. With the size advantage the Kings present, Clarkson will become a big factor in the series. If he can replicate his performance from tonight, and bury some of those chances, he'll have a headline-grabbing series.
The captain was held off the scoresheet, but he almost willed New Jersey to a win. In 21:14 of ice time, he fired three shots on net, but was always threatening to get the perfect opportunity. He threw his body around as well, and made smart plays with the puck. Parise has shown a willingness to drive hard to the net, and he almost found a way to steal a goal tonight while laying in the crease.
Once again, DeBoer made a positive adjustment during the game, helping turn the tide in the Devils favor. With his team struggling to find anything offensively, DeBoer began mixing the lines in the second period. It led to the team's only goal of the game and several more quality chances. DeBoer can always be counted on to push the right buttons and make the right changes. He once again did that tonight.
What Went Wrong
Crossing The "Overly-Aggressive" Line
The Devils have straddled the line between smart, aggressive hockey and overly-aggressive play well throughout the postseason. No team will win if they don't take some chances. But, in overtime and with a long change, New Jersey needed to cut down on those overly-aggressive plays. Before the Kopitar goal, there were three Devils on the right side of the ice. No one even bothered to look out for Kopitar. Justin Williams had an easy lane to throw a backhanded pass into, and the rest is history. There is no way New Jersey should be beat on that type of breakdown. They'll need to refocus and play smarter hockey in Game 2.
Clearing The Puck
It was an adventure for New Jersey trying to take the puck out of their own end. Give credit to the Kings, who worked their forecheck pretty well for most of the game. New Jersey defenders took too long in their own end, and it cost them. Brodeur even had a few uncertain moments. The Devils defense has done a great job of making the first pass quickly and starting the offense. The Kings will rush them a bit more, but that shouldn't change. New Jersey needs to take care of its own end before looking to attack.
The Missed Opportunities
New Jersey should have scored three goals tonight. Clarkson missed a wide open net, and Mark Fayne watched a bouncing puck miss a wide open side of the net. New Jersey needs to take advantage of their opportunities, especially on a night where Jonathan Quick looked like he fought the puck. Instead, they sent too many pucks wide, high or a combination of both. Finishing is just as important as generating the scoring opportunities. While New Jersey did just that, they need to find the scoring touch in Game 2.
Playing Half The Game
The Devils played a great 30 minutes tonight. That won't win playoff hockey games. The team looked tentative in the first period, and found themselves back in a shell during the first half of the middle frame. After breaking out and controlling the first 10 minutes of the third period, they were once again on the receiving end. Games have a natural ebb and flow, and there were usually be a lull for one team and a surge for the other. Good teams know how to control those, and New Jersey couldn't do that tonight.