NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Even though the Los Angeles Kings faced the New Jersey Devils only twice this season, and not since October, they knew exactly what to expect from the Eastern Conference champions.
Like the Kings, the Devils grind out games and rely on a strong forecheck to set the tone. Puck possession is important, and bottling up opponents is another key to success.
The Devils blew a coverage in overtime in Game 1, and it cost them the game as Anze Kopitar turned the breakdown into a breakaway that produced the winning goal in Los Angeles' 2-1 victory Wednesday night.
"When you play the Devils there is not a whole lot of room out there, especially in OT, but I'll gladly take it," Kopitar said Thursday, the first day of a two-day break in the series before Game 2 on Saturday night.
The Kings took a 1-0 lead in the first period, and didn't score again until Kopitar won it 8:13 into the extra period. In between, Anton Volchenkov got the tying goal for the Devils in the second period.
"We knew what we were getting into," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "They came out hard. We knew they were going to be hardworking, hard physically, get on the forecheck, and they were. We did our best to get ready for them. We didn't handle it as well as we could sometimes, but you've got to give them a lot of credit."
While the Kings didn't appear to take the best shot from the Devils yet, they will look to take advantage of them again on Saturday night before the series shifts to Los Angeles for two games. The Kings led their first three playoff series 3-0.
"After we got the first win, we're just thinking it was a 0-0 series," Kopitar said. "Focus on the next start and do it all over again."
TOO FRIENDLY? The Devils are in a unique spot as they take on the unfamiliar Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals.
In the previous two rounds, New Jersey took on and took out its two biggest rivals: first, the Philadelphia Flyers in five games, and then the hated New York Rangers in six. Both Atlantic Division rivals play relatively close in distance to New Jersey and both tend to overshadow the Devils, even though the Devils have had much more success in recent years than either of those clubs.
There is no little-brother syndrome facing the Devils in this round like they dealt with in the conference finals against the Rangers, so forgive New Jersey if takes a bit of time to develop some animosity toward the Kings.
That could change as early as Saturday's Game 2.
"I think so," New Jersey forward Adam Henrique said on Thursday. "Obviously, they're a team that we haven't seen very much over the year. There's not that big rivalry like the Rangers or Philadelphia.
"It's the Stanley Cup finals. I'm sure it will ramp up. Maybe not the chippiness, but just the physical play all around. I think it was there last night for the most part. I'm sure that will continue throughout the series."
Through one game, both teams are still going through the feeling-out process. The Devils won both regular-season meetings that took place just 12 days apart, including one in a shootout.
"They're a different team than the Rangers or other teams we have faced so far," Henrique said. "They bring a little bit of all of those teams into one. They're a deep team. They have puck-moving defensemen, solid goaltending. But that's to be expected. Obviously they're here for a reason.
"We need to focus on our game, how we need to play. Maybe we were a little nervous coming out at the start of the game (Wednesday). We were throwing pucks away. We weren't hanging onto the pucks, making plays. There's a lot of room for improvement on our side."