NEWARK — East. West. It doesn’t make a difference to the Los Angeles Kings.
All they have done in the playoffs is win, and the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils became their latest victim.
Anze Kopitar scored a spectacular goal on a breakaway with 11 minutes, 47 seconds left in overtime Wednesday night and the Kings beat the Devils 2-1 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
“From a series standpoint, it’s huge to put them behind us, right off the get-go,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “It makes it a little more difficult for them to get back into it if we play our game and do the right things.”
Kopitar did everything perfectly on his breakaway after taking a great chip pass from Justin Williams. He faked a backhand shot, put the puck on his forehand and beat a prone Martin Brodeur.
“All losses this time of year are really hard to take because your dream is slowly shutting down,” Brodeur said. “We lost one game. There’s six games left in this series. They need to win three. We need to win four.”
Los Angeles has won all nine of its road games in the playoffs, an NHL record. The Kings are one win shy of tying the NHL record for postseason road victories.
More importantly, they are three wins away from the franchise’s first NHL title since entering the league in 1967-68. They have won 11 consecutive road playoff games dating back to last season.
Los Angeles is now 13-2 this postseason.
Kopitar saw Williams battling with Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador and forward Dainius Zubrus along the boards.
“I wanted to make sure I went to the middle,” Kopitar said. “I don’t know if he heard me or not, but I yelled for the puck and he chipped it. It was perfect, right on my tape. It happened pretty quick and I was able to finish it off.”
As soon as he rifled the puck into the net, Kopitar raised his hands and banged himself into the boards, facing the crowd off to Brodeur’s right.
“To put it past a goaltender like Marty,” Kopitar said, “is a good feeling.”
The veteran goaltender dejectedly skated off to the locker room as the rest of the Kings piled on Kopitar.
Williams said his setup was a prayer.
“I just threw an area pass,” he said. “I hoped that he was alone and he was. I’ve played with him a long time. You just kind of feel it. If it wasn’t there, it would have went to nobody.
“It was a no-lose situation.”
This is the third straight series in which the Devils have lost the first game.
“I think it was probably the worst game in the playoffs for us,” said Devils leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, who was limited to one shot. “Maybe we were a little too nervous before the game started, but it’s all excuses. We’ve got to make sure we know what we didn’t do right, and be a different team next game.”
Fourth-line center Colin Fraser scored in the first period for the Kings, the No. 8 seed in the West who beat the top three teams to get to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1993.
Anton Volchenkov tied it late in the second period for New Jersey, the East’s sixth seed.
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick finished with 17 saves on what was a relatively easy night. Brodeur had 23 saves as the Devils lost in overtime for just the second time this postseason; they have won four times. Los Angeles is 3-0 after regulation this spring.
The Devils had two great chances to take the lead early in the third, and for a split second it appeared they went ahead with 16:02 to play in regulation when Zach Parise scored off a wild goal-mouth scramble.
While the horns went off and the fans celebrated, referee Dan O’Halloran quickly waved off the goal.
It was reviewed in Toronto, and replays clearly showed Parise swept the puck into the net with his hand.
Defenseman Mark Fayne probably was kicking himself six minutes later when he missed a wide-open net from the edge of the crease in what was the Devils’ best period of the night.
“We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and we didn’t,” said Devils veteran Patrik Elias, a member of their Cup-winning teams in 2000 and 2003.
The Kings had their chances, too, with Brodeur making two outstanding saves about 10 seconds apart. He made a stacked-pad save on a one-timer by defenseman Drew Doughty from 30 feet after a drop pass from Mike Richards. A turnover seconds later set up forward Dustin Penner for a shot from the left circle.
The Kings came into the finals after steamrolling Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix in just 14 games, and they made the Devils look ordinary in the first 40 minutes, holding them to nine shots.