The Los Angeles Kings opened Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals by continuing so many of the things that got them there -- quick breakouts, precise transitions through the neutral zone, big stops from Jonathan Quick when needed.
Yet through 60 minutes and a Kings' shot advantage of 22-15, the game had been reduced to hockey's coin flip as the Kings faced sudden death overtime for the third time in the 2012 playoffs. And although the Kings were the better team through most of regulation, the New Jersey Devils played better in overtime and nearly claimed Game 1 for themselves. Anze Kopitar's game-winning breakaway came against the run of play to give L.A. the 2-1 win.
Although the Kings once again were the better team -- Devils coach Peter DeBoer even said his team didn't deserve the win -- and the Devils' lone goal came on a fluke bounce off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, the Devils had several choice opportunities to turn Game 1 their way. This was their game to steal.
On a second-period odd-man rush, Dale Clarkson was set up by Ilya Kovalchuk in prime shooting position before the puck popped over his blade and out of danger. In the third period, Zach Parise's properly disallowed goal (he swept it in with his hand) came after a flurry and a golden stick save by Quick. Defenseman Mark Fayne also had a wide open net gaping at him, but he couldn't get all of the puck to put it past Quick. In overtime, Kovalchuk -- one of the game's best shooters -- had the game on his stick when he elected to pass instead.
Although Quick made some key saves -- some of them requiring focus after long stretches of inactivity -- he looked more like the Quick of a few seasons ago, scrambling a little too far and too often out of his crease, having to rely too much on acrobatics to recover position. The Devils were unable to take advantage of those moments (and in Clarkson and Fayne's case, they never even got the shot on goal), but this was one game where the Vezina Trophy candidate Quick could have easily given up a crooked number of goals despite facing only 17 shots.
Instead, Kopitar decided things. A prescient pass from Justin Williams from the left wing boards sent Kopitar in all alone, where he made one of his brilliant dekes to beat Martin Brodeur. A close Game 1 rightly came down to one shot, and the Kings, as they've been throughout these playoffs, were the team to take it.
Win number 13 is in the books. Their road record remains unblemished. With barely a speed bump, the Kings' fantastic spring marches on.
Stick with SB Nation's dedicated NHL hub for full Stanley Cup finals coverage. For more on the New Jersey Devils, check out Devils blog In Lou We Trust. For more on the Los Angeles Kings, check out Jewels From The Crown and SB Nation Los Angeles.