- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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NEWARK, N.J. -- They did it in Vancouver, again in St. Louis and then in Phoenix.
Win the opening game and get in the driver's seat.
Why did anyone expect anything different in New Jersey?
"Game 1 has been so important for us all playoffs. We've started on the road and known it was important for us to get that win, and we've done it every time," Los Angeles Kings winger Dustin Penner said.
Even on a night when they really didn't have their usual mojo, Los Angeles found yet another way to win, Anze Kopitar's dashing breakaway goal 8:13 into overtime giving the Western Conference beasts a 2-1 decision over a game New Jersey Devils squad.
Make it 9-0 on the road this spring. Honestly, it's getting silly.
"We're comfortable on the road," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We execute well. So far this year it's been good defense, really good goaltending and timely goals."
Indeed, netminder Jonathan Quick strengthened his Conn Smythe bid with a 17-save night that perhaps wasn't a busy one but there were several quality saves that made the difference.
Star blue-liner Drew Doughty, another Conn Smythe contender, had yet again a dominant game at both ends of the ice, the only player in the game with a plus-2.
The Kings' fourth line, centered by Colin Fraser between Jordan Nolan and Brad Richardson, had an effective night, opening the scoring and providing quality shifts for Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who had no problem putting them out against either of the Devils' top two lines. The trio played north of 11 minutes, and that's an important achievement because the Devils certainly get use out of their fourth line.
And once again, the Kings never trailed in this game. They almost never do in these playoffs.
"This time of year it's a grind either way," Brown said. "It's a game of momentum but when you have the lead, we've had to play from behind maybe less than 60 minutes this whole playoff. You look at our record and I think that's a big reason why."
On a day in which NHL GMs gathered across the Hudson to discuss, among other things, the state of the game, this was far from a classic, that's for sure. Which was somewhat surprising because both clubs have played a positive brand of hockey this spring.
Perhaps feeling each other out -- the clubs don't see each other very often during the regular season -- it wasn't a thing of beauty to watch.
"It was sluggish on both sides," veteran Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "Way too many turnovers in the neutral zone, it was a back-and-forth type of game. A bit of feeling out as well, it looked like. It was a weird game. I'm sure both teams will be better for Game 2. I know we'll be."
Of course, it might have helped if the ice wasn't so brutal. That took away from what both teams were trying to do. The bouncing puck hurt the flow of the game.
"It was like playing with a tennis ball, quite honestly, out there," Brown said. "It's probably hard to get any type of consistency on the ice with the humidity. I don't think it's the heat; we played in Phoenix last series and the ice was fine. It's the humidity [that] makes it hard. As a player, you also start to lose your fluids and you start seizing up."
The Kings were sucking air on this night. Brown said they were relieved more than overjoyed when Kopitar scored. They were spent. The West Coasters aren't used to playing in the kind of New York/New Jersey-style humidity this week has had to offer.
"Yeah, it's totally the humidity," Stoll said. "It wasn't even close in Phoenix, even though it was 109 F. It was a battle here tonight. It was the hottest we've played, temperature-wise, in the playoffs. Guys were eating food in here and drinking and getting fluids in them. It was a battle to try and get our game on the ice. We have to be better in Game 2."
Still, on a night in which the Kings didn't have their A game, they still managed to win again to improve to a remarkable 13-2 in these playoffs. You start to think that when they're winning this way, they are indeed the team in destiny in this year's playoffs.
Just like they have over the course of the playoffs, the Kings found a way to pull a Game 1 road victory out of the fire, writes Pierre LeBrun.