Frank Seravalli: Los Angeles plays role of Kings of the road in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur clears puck away from Kings' Anze Kopitar during Game 1 of Stanley Cup finals.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur clears puck away from Kings' Anze Kopitar during Game 1 of Stanley Cup finals. (BRUCE BENNETT / GETTY IMAGES)
Posted: May 31, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. - Justin Williams was facing the Los Angeles Kings' bench, battling for a loose puck with his back turned to the open ice.

Williams never actually saw Anze Kopitar streaking toward Martin Brodeur with his own two eyes, though he chipped the puck to an open area.

"I just had a feeling," Williams said. "I kind of thought he might be there alone."

Finally, Williams could turn to watch Kopitar go in alone, the golden goal's puck resting comfortably on his stick.

When Kopitar shook off Brodeur to give Los Angeles a thrilling, 2-1 overtime win over New Jersey in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center, the same special "feeling" Williams said he had reverberated throughout the hockey world and Philadelphia.

The Kings might actually hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 44-year history. Pinch me. It's really happening. The eighth-seeded Kings have steamrolled through the playoffs, and some foolishly thought that would end on Wednesday.

Los Angeles is now an astounding 9-0 on the road this postseason. If the Kings remain unbeaten on the road, they will win the Stanley Cup no matter how poorly they play at Staples Center when the series shifts coast-to-coast next week.

"We haven't concentrated on keeping the streak alive or anything like that," Kings forward Dustin Penner said. "We have started every series on the road. We know how important it is to win that first game and get off to a good start."

How good is it looking for the Kings? For one, they earned a victory in a back-and-forth game that followed an 8-day layoff. They seemed to efficiently neutralize the Devils' prodigious forecheck for stretches, opening up their own chances. And they didn't flinch in overtime.

Maybe it is possible to win a Stanley Cup without ever playing more than five games in a series.

After the game, veterans like Mike Richards were quick to cancel any Hollywood (or Sea Isle City?) parade plans. Richards said, "It was just one game," and mentioned that he knows how tough it is to win in New Jersey.

The numbers just seem to add up. In all three of their conquests to get to the finals, the Kings have taken a 2-0 series lead back to Southern California. They've trailed for only 58:08 - or about 10 percent of the time (570:12 total) - in their nine playoff road wins.

The winner of Game 1 has gone on to hoist Lord Stanley's gleaming, silver mug an astounding 76.9 percent of the time over the last 83 years. Boston (2011) and Pittsburgh (2009) are two teams who bucked that trend over the last three postseasons.

"We wanted to spoil their fans' fun," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We saw how silent they were when Kopitar scored and we were celebrating. That was fun."

Both teams will enjoy 2 days off before the puck drops in Game 2 on Saturday night at Prudential Center.

Not surprisingly, the Kings grabbed the lead on Wednesday within the first 10 minutes by way of a Flyers connection.

It wasn't from Simon Gagne, who was a healthy scratch for the first time since missing the last 63 games with postconcussion syndrome.

It wasn't from the Flyers' Old City pals, who have since patrolled the Manhattan Beach, Calif., scene. Richards and Jeff Carter were both held off the scoresheet for the seventh time in the Kings' 15 playoff games.

Instead, with general manager and ex-Flyers scout Dean Lombardi and assistant Ron Hextall hawking the action from the press box, Los Angeles was lifted to the scant one-goal lead by an obscure, former Flyers draft pick. The story of "Flyers West'' continues to evolve in new ways.

Colin Fraser, 27, snuck a wrister through Brodeur just 9:56 into the game from the high slot. Fraser was drafted by the Flyers in the third round (69th overall) in 2003. He signed with the Flyers but never played a game, being dealt by Bob Clarke to Chicago with Jim Vandermeer in exchange for forward Alexei Zhamnov.

Fraser's lead lasted for nearly 30 minutes, before a fluke point shot bounced off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and behind Jonathan Quick with 1:12 left in the second period. Anton Volchenkov was credited with his first playoff goal since Game 3 of the 2007 Stanley Cup finals, though the shot appeared to graze Patrik Elias on the way into the net.

Until that point, the Kings had effectively neutralized the Devils' aggressive forecheck. The Devils were held to just seven shots in nearly two full periods before Volchenkov's blue-line blast.

New Jersey nearly took the lead in the opening minutes of the final frame, but the video review of an in-crease scramble showed Zach Parise shoveling the puck into the net with his hand.

Play opened up considerably after two sleepy periods that served as a reintroduction for teams that had not met since Oct. 23. Both teams traded scoring chances like punchers in a prize fight, each spending nearly equal offensive zone time in the third period.

But it was Williams who fed Kopitar for the final blow.

"It's not a dream," said Williams, who is now 8 years removed from Philadelphia and won a Cup in Carolina in 2006. "We won Game 1. We've got something good going here, but . . . it's one game. We know it's going to be an extremely tough series. If we can keep going, it will be a heck of a story. If we lose, it will be a heck of a collapse."


Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com. 

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