NEWARK, N.J. -- On a night when Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals was there for the taking, the New Jersey Devils ended up giving one away.
Now the only question following the Los Angeles Kings' 2-1 overtime victory -- the Kings' ninth straight road victory this playoff season -- is whether this little bit of hockey largesse will cost the Devils a Stanley Cup.
It wasn't just the overtime winner scored by Anze Kopitar -- after defenseman Marek Zidlicky was caught well up the ice, allowing Kopitar to take a Justin Williams pass and scoot in alone to beat Martin Brodeur with a nifty deke -- although that obviously hurt. But the Devils should never have let this one get to overtime.
After falling behind in the first period, the jittery Devils squandered more than half a dozen glorious scoring opportunities.
Yes, they mustered just 18 shots on Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick -- who has now allowed two or fewer goals in 13 playoff games this spring -- but there will be more than a few Devils who will sleep fitfully knowing their muffed scoring chance might have been the difference.
Like defenseman Mark Fayne, who had the game on his stick in the third period with Quick out of position but couldn't get enough wood on it to send the puck into the gaping cage.
"It just kind of hopped up at the last second. Got a little bit of it, but not as much as I'd have liked to," Fayne said afterward. "It's definitely tough knowing that if one of those go in, then it would have been a win for us. But also I think it's encouraging knowing that we had those opportunities. We know if we keep playing hard, we keep pressing, we'll get some of those bounces."
It wasn't just Fayne, of course.
David Clarkson had several golden chances, including one he sailed high and wide in the first period.
Captain Zach Parise had an open side of the net, but the puck bounced at an ill-opportune time for him as well.
Asked later if he could have done anything different on the play, he said simply, "I could've put it in."
And so it went.
"Yeah, those are opportunities lost," said forward Ryan Carter. "We could have maybe ended the game in the third, regulation, things like that. That's huge this time of year. Often it seems like you get those big chances and it goes down to the other end and it's in the back of your net."
Bad bounces. Bad luck. Regardless of how you want to characterize it, this was an opportunity lost. Instead of putting the Kings in unfamiliar territory with a win -- the Kings have won all of their Game 1s this spring -- the Devils are now chasing.
"You know, it would have been nice to get a bounce," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "But I don't believe we deserved to win tonight. That's the bottom line. That's what happened. If we had have won, we would have been sneaking one out."
The good thing for the Devils is they lost the opening game in each of the past two series, against Philadelphia and the New York Rangers.
But with all due respect to the Rangers and Flyers, this Kings team is a different beast altogether.
A number of Devils talked about their jitters, of feeling some nerves as the final series began.
"A little bit nerves at the beginning, certain guys," said veteran Patrik Elias, who drew an assist on the Devils' lone goal, a blast by defenseman Anton Volchenkov that bounced in off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov.
"We had a handful of good shifts, but not really a sustained pressure against them. They had a pretty easy night against us, I think, that's my opinion. We didn't grind it out. We didn't make it hard on them."
They'll get a chance to make it harder on the Kings on Saturday in Game 2.
Unfortunately for the Devils, they've already made the difficult task of dethroning the red-hot Kings more difficult than it needed to be.