Still proving to be Kings of the road
The Kings won their ninth straight road playoff game in the Stanley Cup opener
Anze Kopitar forced Martin Brodeur to commit in OT of the Kings' 2-1 victory
The artistic goal ended the game that desperately needed a dollop of beauty
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Los Angeles Kings have taken a novel approach to trying to win the Stanley Cup.
The novel happens to be Jack Kerouac's On The Road.
Continuing the greatest travel adventure since Chevy Chase took Europe and Alexander the Great took, well, pretty much everything, the Kings ran their unbeaten playoff streak to nine games, winning in the New Jersey humidity with one of the coolest overtime goals you will ever see.
Anze Kopitar swallowed the puck -- Zach Parise cheated on the play up ice and two Devils got caught near the boards -- and bore down on Martin Brodeur in New Jersey's goal. Kopitar moved with confidence, deked, forced Brodeur to commit to the first move and neatly tucked in the winner at 8:13 of overtime in an ugly 2-1 Cup opener on Wednesday night.
"It was like 66," Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille said.
Lucky Luc was referring to Mario Lemieux's number, not Route 66, although you can never really tell when the subject is a team that keeps steaming along away from its Staples Center playpen.
The formula is basic, winger Dustin Penner explained. Score first to take the crowd out of the game (the Kings have done so in five of their postseason games thus far), and keep pushing, which theyy've done by scoring in 21-of-27 regulation road periods. Of course, the Devils pushed back in the third period. Although New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said his team didn't deserve to win, the Devils did dominate late until Kopitar's goal proved to be the lipstick on what essentially was a pig of a Game 1.
Los Angeles had played in the triple-digit heat of Phoenix, but certainly the Kings were not prepared for the sticky conditions in New Jersey. "The puck was on its side more than it was flat," Penner said. Los Angeles also seemed troubled by its lengthy layoff after having closed out the Coyotes seemingly some time around Easter -- "You don't go from zero to 60 in terms of intensity," defenseman Rob Scuderi said -- but the Kings did manage to get up to speed more quickly than the Devils.
The first period was a low-impact workout, two teams that looked as rusty as an old Plymouth Duster parked down the Jersey Shore for the summer. The Devils iced the puck three times within the first three minutes. The teams combined for five icings and went offsides another five, a pitiable but, as it would turn out, symmetrical number. The Kings and Devils also each had five shots, a depressingly modest total considering that this was hardly a festival of shot blocking. There were four of those, two by each team.
Indeed, with the clock ticking toward the midway point in the period, the teams had managed to launch just one shot each on target until the Kings' fourth line suddenly seized an opportunity. Jordan Nolan, almost big enough to be New Jersey's 22nd county, abused Devils defenseman Andy Greene along the end boards with some robust forechecking. Nolan is 6-foot-3, 227 pounds -- four inches and seven pounds heavier than Greene, one of the members of a group that actually has written the words "No Name Defense" on its water bottles. Nolan dug out the puck with alarming ease and fed Colin Fraser, the only regular Kings forward who had yet to score in the playoffs. He joined the party at 9:56 of the first period, skittering the puck between the pads of the venerable Brodeur.
The Kings, the muscle team, actually played a textbook road period. They broke down utterly only once -- David Clarkson wound up remarkably unfettered in the high slot, but shot wide by two feet -- and consistently negated New Jersey's forecheck with some short passes and commendable puck support. Unlike the vacationing New York Rangers, who kept trying to force the puck along the boards against the Devils, the Kings were unafraid of using the middle of the ice in their breakouts.
Like the Chicago Cubs lineup, the Kings had a slew of easy outs.
The Devils didn't have a shot in the second period until five-and-a-half minutes remained when a penalty-killing Parise drove the puck to the net. Jonathan Quick made a better stop on Parise, literally, with two minutes left in the period when he actually lay on the Devils' captain in the crease for a few seconds, not permitting him to get back in the play that had turned up ice. All of which begged for a goal from someone with no pedigree.
Enter New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who had three playoff goals in 79 previous career games. But in the final 75 seconds, he loosed a shot from the left point that Quick, fighting through a screen, didn't track until late. The goalie made the initial stop, but the puck bounded high into the air where it caromed off his own defenseman, Slava Voynov, as the Devils' Patrik Elias swiped at it. The goal, initially credited to Elias, was quickly given to Volchenkov, the second player to break his scoring maiden.
Not until the opening minutes of the third period when the Devils' first line had a breakout shift -- Clarkson was a beast -- did the game ratchet up to a level even remotely resembling the quality of a Stanley Cup Final. Suddenly the Kings, who had been moving the puck smartly from their own zone, were caught in a quagmire against the Devils' forecheck. Parise was dancing. If he couldn't score with his stick, he was going to throw the puck in the net. (Nice try. No goal.) Midway through the period, the Devils managed to break out three-on-one and pinching defenseman Mark Fayne, a right-handed shot, momentarily had an empty net to Quick's left. If Fayne were a lefty, he probably would have buried the bouncing puck. And if everyone in Jersey commuted to New York City by helicopter, they could turn the Holland Tunnel into a bowling alley.
The best play of the period belonged to Brodeur who, with 7:30 remaining, gave a nod to hockey's anachronistic past. Brodeur stacked his pads to stop Kings swashbuckler Drew Doughty, who had time to tee up the puck. The two-pad stack is now as rare as a genuine hockey mullet, but Brodeur, who always makes the save appropriate to the shot, threw out his legs to foil the Kings defenseman, who had steamed into the slot.
"I think that's the first time," said Doughty when asked if he ever had an NHL shot stopped by a double-pad stack. "We'd watched video on him, but that's not what I expected at all. He's a different goalie, a smart goalie. He must have read the angle of my blade or saw where my eyes were looking. If I go blocker side, it's an easy goal. Next time I'd better bury that chance."
The Kings won Game 1 on the road in 1993, their only other appearance in a Stanley Cup Final and wound up losing to Montreal in Game 2 overtime after ceding a power-play goal on a late illegal stick penalty. They don't call for stick measurements anymore and Chevy Chase doesn't make National Lampoon vacation movies, which suggests that nothing -- even the Kings' road playoff winning streak -- lasts forever.
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