It doesn't matter whom Los Angeles Kings face or where they play.
East. West. High seed. Low seed. The results haven't changed this postseason.
W after W after W.
In becoming their latest victim, the New Jersey Devils quickly learned they are not facing the likes of the Panthers, Flyers or Rangers. Los Angeles is a super team right now and New Jersey needs to pick up its game if it wants any hope of lifting the Stanley Cup.
Anze Kopitar scored a spectacular goal on a breakaway with 11:47 left in overtime Wednesday night and the Kings beat the Devils 2-1 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
"It was more of a grinding game tonight," said Kings forward Justin Williams, who set up Kopitar's goal with a chip pass from along the boards in center ice. "We realized that early. It's a team that doesn't give you much and we're not expecting to give an inch either. It's supposed to be hard. Tonight it was."
And as usual Los Angeles won. It has steamrolled to a 13-2 record in the postseason and it is now three wins from hoisting its first Cup since joining the NHL in 1967-68. The Kings have won all nine of their road games in the playoffs, an NHL record. They are now one win shy of tying the NHL record for postseason road victories in a season.
They have won 11 consecutive road playoff games dating to last season.
"I think we've outworked teams," said Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who made 17 saves. "I think whoever wins this series is going to be the team that outworks the other."
The winning goal was a perfect example. Williams fought Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador and forward Dainius Zubrus along the boards in center ice and managed to chip a pass down the middle toward the Devils' zone.
It was somewhat of a prayer.
"I just threw an area pass," Williams said. "I hoped that he was alone and he was. I've played with him a long time. You just kind of feel it. If it wasn't there, it would have went to nobody. It was a no-lose situation."
Kopitar did everything perfectly on his breakaway. He faked a backhand then put the puck on his forehand and beat a prone Martin Brodeur.
"All losses this time of year are really hard to take because your dream is slowly shutting down," said Brodeur, who faced 25 shots. "We lost one game, there's six games left in this series. They need to win three. We need to win four."
As soon as he rifled the puck into the net, Kopitar raised his hands and banged himself into the boards, facing the crowd off to Brodeur's right.
"To put it past a goaltender like Marty," Kopitar said, "is a good feeling."
The veteran goaltender dejectedly skated off to the locker room as the Kings piled on Kopitar.
This is the third straight series in which the Devils have lost the first game.
"I think it was probably the worst game in the playoffs for us," said Devils leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, who was limited to one shot. "Maybe we were a little too nervous before the game started, but it's all excuses. We've got to make sure we know what we didn't do right, and be a different team next game."
Game 2 will be played Saturday in New Jersey.
"We'll be better on Saturday night. ... I don't believe we deserved to win tonight, that's the bottom line and that's what happened," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "If we had have won, we would have been sneaking one out."
Fourth-line center Colin Fraser scored in the first period for the Kings, the No. 8 seed in the West who beat the top three teams to get to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1993.
Anton Volchenkov tied it late in the second period for New Jersey, the East's sixth seed. The Devils are now 4-2 in overtime his postseason. Los Angeles is 3-0 after regulation this spring.
The Devils had two great chances to take the lead early in the third, and for a split second it appeared they went ahead with 16:02 to play in regulation when Zach Parise scored off a wild goal-mouth scramble.
While the horns went off and the fans celebrated, referee Dan O'Halloran quickly waved off the goal.
It was reviewed in Toronto and replay clearly showed Parise swept the puck into the net with his hand.
Defenseman Mark Fayne was probably kicking himself six minutes later when he missed a wide-open net from the edge of the crease in what was the Devils' best period of the night.
"We didn't deserve to win tonight, and we didn't," said Devils veteran Patrik Elias, a member of their Cup-winning teams in 2000 and 2003.
The Kings had their chances, too, with Brodeur making two outstanding saves about 10 seconds apart. He made a stacked-pad save on a one-timer by defenseman Drew Doughty from 30 feet after a drop pass from Mike Richards. A turnover seconds later set up forward Dustin Penner for a shot from the left circle.
The Kings came into the finals after steamrolling Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix in just 14 games, and they made the Devils look ordinary in the first 40 minutes, holding them to nine shots.
But a fluke goal by Volchenkov tied the game with 1:12 left in the second.
Volchenkov took a shot from the left point that Quick kicked away in front. The puck went airborne, avoided Elias in front and hit off the shoulder of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov before going into the net.
Until then, Fraser's first career playoff goal was looking like the winner.
It was a typical Kings' goal, created off the forecheck — by the fourth line, no less.
Jordan Nolan checked New Jersey's Andy Greene behind the Devils' net, dug out the puck and found Fraser between the circles for a shot that beat Brodeur 9:56 into the game.
The Kings had chances to extend the lead, but Brodeur, who was the difference in the Devils' victory over the rival Rangers in the conference finals, made three good saves. The best stop by the 40-year-old, three-time Cup winner came on the opening shift of the second, when he blocked Kopitar pointblank on the edge of the crease.
Brodeur also stopped forward Jeff Carter from in close and made a big pad stop on Penner in the second.
The Devils were held without a shot for more than 14 minutes of the period before Parise was credited with one on a short-handed attempt in which the puck rolled off his stick into the crease.
Quick, who wasn't very busy in the first two periods, made his best save with a glove stop on Zubrus from the left circle after a turnover.
However, New Jersey managed to tie it on Volchenkov's strange goal.
The tally came just after Quick got into a tussle with Parise in the crease, and refused to let the Devils' captain get up after he fell as Parise lost his helmet.
"I think we're going to have to find another level," DeBoer said. "We were a little tentative, as was expected for a Stanley Cup final. I think we got better as the game went along, but you have to play 60 minutes against that team.
"We have to be better than we were tonight."
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