- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Not all 2-0 series leads are measured equally. And certainly in this case, the Los Angeles Kings don’t quite feel as giddy about their usual enemy rink theft in the opening two games.
The unspoken feeling in the opening three rounds was that the Kings had inflicted sufficient damage both psychologically and on the scoreboard against the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes heading into Game 3 at Staples Center. But this time around in the Stanley Cup finals, it’s a bit of a different feeling.
They’re not dominating the New Jersey Devils. It’s the Cup finals, it should indeed be harder.
The Kings certainly don’t feel like they’ve broken the Devils. And quite frankly, they feel fortunate to be up 2-0.
"Two overtime games that could have gone either way -- luckily they both went for us," veteran Kings blueliner Matt Greene observed Sunday. "But we have to get better in this series."
Hard to believe there’s possibly anything to nitpick about a 14-2 team, right? But you can read it in the body language on the Kings. They’re not quite as comfortable as they were after coming home up 2-0 in the opening three series.
"I think Jersey has been really successful on their forecheck,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said Sunday. "They’ve been the most successful team against us. We’ve been able to move the puck in and out of our zone pretty regularly the first three rounds. And you saw in it in Game 2 quite a bit where they are dumping it in and getting it back, which hasn’t happened to us. I think Game 2 in particular, we probably spent the most time in our D-zone since the beginning of the playoffs. They’re doing a good job. And it’s a double-edged sword because it’s a lot harder to play in your own zone. I think if you asked any of our defensemen today, they’re probably more tired than they’ve been all season."
The Devils’ bread and butter in these playoffs has been that effective forecheck, supported by their defenseman who also are aggressive at the opposing blue line trying to keep the puck in. The Kings have been able to thwart opposing forechecks from Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix by having their deep and versatile defense pairings quickly get the puck out of their zone and onto the tape of a teammate to get the transition game going.
As Brown pointed out, however, the Devils were finally able to thwart the Kings' smooth defensive-zone operation Saturday night, albeit again in a losing cause.
It opened some eyes on the Kings.
"Their forecheck’s great right now," Greene said of the Devils. "It’s getting a lot of things done for them that they want to get done. They’re bottling us up in the neutral zone pretty well, too. We want to sustain more pressure in the offensive zone and not have to rely on Quickie [Jonathan Quick] as much as we have. We got to get better."
The Devils’ six defensemen are helping break up outlet passes by sitting right on top of the Kings forwards.
"It’s like a five-man forecheck,” said Brown. "As a winger playing my off wing [in his own zone], it hasn’t been easy making plays off the wall because their D is right there."
And yet, here’s the gravy if you’re the Kings, or the scary part if you’re the Devils: Los Angeles knows it has another level to go in its game, having found that A-game most of the past two months.
Can you really say the same of the Devils? That looked like a pretty total effort on the part of New Jersey on Saturday, power-play struggles aside. It just feels that if the Kings do find that next gear, this series will be a short one.
But if the Devils can apply more pressure from that forecheck Monday night and have it produce more tangible results on the scoreboard, we might still have a series.
The Kings have gone up 3-0 in each previous round in this very position. The Devils need to play their best game Monday.
2dScott Burnside and Craig Custance